Tuna Kuwharuwharu – Longfin Eel

 —  05/10/2009

I remember reading journal stories at school which talked about tuna (eels) and being terrified of them through their descriptions about them lurking in rivers with big teeth.  As a city-born lassie I thought they were everywhere and they would bite my feet off.  Since moving to Wairarapa I understand this is not the case – our eels are in massive decline.

Longfin eel image captured by Alton Perrie at Greater Wellington Regional Council

Longfin eel image captured by Alton Perrie at Greater Wellington Regional Council

Here in Wairarapa DOC, iwi and Greater Wellington Regional Council officers have unofficially decided to spend a year promoting tuna, particularly the endangered longfin, to our community to highlight what an exciting species it is.  Hopefully we can raise awareness and people will start to respect this incredible fish who migrates from Tonga when its only a few millimetres long.

So far this year we’ve got some eel stories in the media including on Good Morning on TVNZ, tuna were a topic that children who attended our Ngahuru, Enviroschool’s Wairarapa day of learning could understand more and see them get fed at Pukaha Mount Bruce where some big longfins live and we were lucky enought to have Caleb Royale, a scientist from Te Wananga o Raukawa, to host a field trip at Papawai marae.

To finish off our year of promotion we’re working with Rangitane o Wairarapa to publish a teacher’s resource on tuna.  Joseph Potangaroa has written up everything he knows about them both scientifically, historically and culturally, found some awesome photographs and developed resources children can do in class to learn. 

Hopefully if we can help bring tuna alive then the next generations will help us to restore our land and stop over-fishing of such an incredible species.

We’re currently drawing up a bid for funding so our plan can become action so watch this space and maybe I’ll upload the document when it comes into action!  Let’s hope everyone can start to develop an understanding of how important tuna are for NZ and not be scared of them any longer.

Here in Wairarapa, goodness gracious I’ve never seen so many eels, that many over here that the drains at Te Hopai used to be 8 feet deep, just a mass of eels going out to sea.  I’ve seen that, and we just put in a big wire, no barb and just pulled them out, out of the drains.  Big wide drains, about 12 feet wide.  The drains were thick with eels.  You could hear them at night like ducks taking off and you know they’re running.
From an interview with Wiremu Aspinall 2001

Some interesting facts about eels you may not know:

  • Eels breed once in their lives and then die
  • Females don’t mature until they’re 34 years old, males until they’re 23-25
  • A female longin eel can have between 1-20 million eggs
  • They swin 6,000 kilometres to deep warm trenches, possibly off the Tongan coast where each eel lays or fertilises eggs.  All the adults then die.
  • The eggs develop into tiny see through creatures called leptocephalus.  These drift on currents back towards the New Zealand coast.
  • Leptocephalus develop into glass eels.  Between July and November large numbers of the tiny eels enter waterways.  A week later glass eels develop dark skin pigment and become elvers.
  • Elvers can climb straight up wet rock faces and other obstacles as they move inland.

More information on tuna can be found on the DOC website, you can watch an edition of TVNZ6 Meet the Locals where they look at eels, you can order a very special DVD called Longfin and you can head to Pukaha Mount Bruce and watch the daily eel feed with DOC rangers.

5 responses to Tuna Kuwharuwharu – Longfin Eel


    Kia Ora. Readers might also be interested in an NZQA Unit Standard 19851 on the Biology of a Finfish (freshwater eels). It is a Level 3, 5 credit Unit Standard. I put together the free learning resource which you can google or visit http://www.maumhara.co.nz. Cheers Ian Ruru

    Honora Renwick 18/10/2009 at 12:28 pm

    I still get out of the water smartlywhen I feel them round my legs. Can they bite your toes when you’re swimming? I swam across L.Kaurapataka once then remembered about them. Luckily I got no nibbles on the swim back to the campsite.


    Hey, You might want to include the Short Doco/Film Longfin in your education pack. It was produced by students on the Natural History Film course at Otago University which is now the science communications centre.


    i was in Queenstown yesterday and i went into a fish place near the shop rockies in town but i saw 7 eels eating of the same thing and the lady said the y were harmless but they had teeth and i thought that all eels were electric ones but they told me most are not eletric eels so just saying mostly nothing to be affraid of.The lady also said that 80% of eels are NOT electric.


      Hi, Yes that’s a great fact to know. Most eels in New Zealand are longfin or shortfin species and they won’t hurt you – just a bit slippery! Cheers Amanda