The slender sniper eel is a deep-sea predator that lives in the mesopelagic and bathypelagic zones of the open ocean. As its name implies, it is long and slender, reaching lengths of at least four feet (1.3 m) but weights of only a few ounces (~100 grams). Both its upper and lower jaws are extended and full of small teeth, and the tips are curved, giving the mouth a beak-like appearance. The slender snipe eel is a true eel, and individuals have more bones in the vertebral column (as many as 750) than any other species.
The slender snipe eel is an active predator that feeds on pelagic crustaceans in the dark of the deep ocean. Its behaviors are not well understood, but scientists believe it captures its prey by swimming with its mouth open and slashing its head and “beak” side to side when it senses nearby prey. Larger fishes, including some shallow water species that dive to feed (e.g., some tunas), eat slender snipe eels.
This species reproduces via broadcast spawning, a process by which females release their eggs and males release their sperm into the water column at the same time. Scientists believe that individuals of this species only spawn once and then die, a life history strategy characteristic of the Pacific salmons, freshwater eels, and some other species as well. As the slender snipe eel is difficult to study in its natural environment and only occasionally captured by scientists, it is not currently known if this species spawns in groups or in pairs.
The conservation status of the slender snipe eel is not known, but it is likely naturally rare. It is not targeted for human use and is rarely captured in fisheries targeting other species. However, as commercial fishers fish deeper and deeper, targeting new species of fishes and invertebrates, it is possible that the slender snipe eel could be more regularly affected by these activities. Therefore, it is important to continue to study this and similar species, in order to determine population trends and learn more about the life history of species in the deep sea.
Oceana joined forces with Sailors for the Sea, an ocean conservation organization dedicated to educating and engaging the world’s boating community. Sailors for the Sea developed the KELP (Kids Environmental Lesson Plans) program to create the next generation of ocean stewards. Click here or below to download hands-on marine science activities for kids.