- Witnesses saw the man empty plastic bags filled with slithering eels into a Prospect Park lake.
- Wildlife experts are unsure if they'll survive the winter.
Anytime the words “big pile” are found describing slithering animals, I usually nope my way right out of the conversation. But this story about the addition of eels to the NYC park system piqued my curiosity. Andrew Orkin, a jogger, spotted “quite a big pile–fully alive,” while enjoying the view in Prospect Park in Brooklyn. That’ll show him.
Both Slithery and Potentially Invasive
It turns out the story freaks out quite a few people, but not because they have issues with piles of wriggling snakes. The eels are native to south-east Asia, which makes them an exotic species in New York. Their impact on the environment is, as yet, unknown. But the wildlife officials in both the city and state of New York are apprehensive that there can be dire consequences.
Invasive species aren’t native to an area but come in and reproduce unfettered, often because they have no natural enemies. They can cut off resources to native species and cause actual damage to an area’s ecosystem and infrastructure. Right now, spotted lanternflies are ravaging the trees of the Northeast. At the same time, the west loses plant life to vast populations of Japanese beetles.
It wasn’t a criminal mastermind hellbent on wreaking havoc on the NY park system who released the eels. The live eels are found for sale in Chinatown markets, and kind-hearted individuals buy them to liberate them from their fate of becoming sushi. So far, people have released south-east Asian eels in eight states in the United States.
A ‘Big Pile’ of Eels Released
Bystanders who witnessed the liberation at Prospect Park Lake believe there were at least 100 animals in plastic bags put into the water. They’re hard to track once in a body of water. The species is nocturnal and buries in the sediment at the lake bottom for most of the day. Officials don’t expect the eels to survive the winter, but they’ll search the lake come spring.
Until a species lives in an area for a while, there’s no way to know the impact they’re having on the environment. Even if most of the eels die during this winter, climate change may warm New York enough that a few survive and even thrive in the coming years. The parks of New York have become a kind of catch-all for unwanted pets in the city. A short-list of some species that have overrun native populations: European starlings, red-eared sliders, and northern snakehead fish.
According to witnesses of the Great Eel Dump of 2020, the man offered this explanation while walking from the shoreline of the lake, now chockful of eels, “I just want to save lives.”