Owen, Lucy and Finn Dawson stand side by side on the beach at Ocean Grove on a sunny day. Sand dunes and vegetation can be seen in the background. Lucy, in the centre of the shot, is holding a satellite tag from an eel in her right hand.

Scientist David Dawson had a novel way to cure his children’s school holiday blues. He put them to work.

David is a Technical Officer in the Aquatic Ecology group at DELWP’s Arthur Rylah Institute of Environmental Research (ARI).

He is part of a team working on a project to monitor the migratory habits of the Short-finned Eel.

ARI manages the project with support from Melbourne Water.

He became aware that a satellite tag attached to an eel had washed up somewhere on a beach in the Ocean Grove area on Victoria’s Surf Coast.

So, he packed children Owen, Lucy and Finn in the car and took them out for a bit of beach-combing.

It was a long trip - but not as long as it’s believed the elusive eels migrate.

It’s known that adult Short-finned Eels leave fresh water in Victoria and travel long distances to somewhere around the Coral Sea to spawn.

But the location they go to in the Coral Sea and the routes they use are unknown.

While the eels’ final destination is still a mystery, the use of satellite tags by ARI researchers is delivering amazing insights.

We know that some travel more than 3,000km along Australia’s east coast to spawn.

David’s idea that four sets of eyes were better than one paid off. He and his kids found the tracker.

It’s not such a happy ending for the eel, though. It’s likely a hungry shark snapped up the eel on its way north, leaving the tag to wash up at Ocean Grove.

But all is not lost. The ARI team will extract all the data from the tag.

That information will help complete our picture of the Short-finned Eel’s fascinating ecology.

Reviewed 03 May 2021

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