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King snake eel could reappear, local experts say

Posted at 9:03 PM, Feb 14, 2023

Last month, a couple of local residents stumbled across a surprise - a king snake eel - on their stroll at the Port Aransas beach.

These eels are rare and only found in the Gulf of Mexico.

"We saw this huge eel and coming from Iowa I thought this is stuff nightmares are made out of," Port Aransas woman Michelle Neelans said.

KRIS 6 News spoke with Jace Tunnell, the Reserve Director at the University of Texas Science Institute, who said he also noticed the eel while doing his weekly beach surveys.

"We find a lot of the smaller eels, like shrimp eels. People use those for fishing. But these large eels, there’s not very many species that get that large. When you find them washed up dead it’s like what is this thing you know," Tunnell said.

After Tunnel and the Mission Aransas Researches found the dead eel washed up by the wrack zone, they made sure to get videos of it for their YouTube channel. Thankfully, Tunell had a pair of gloves and a video camera ready in his car. After getting some shots of the eel, the group thought it was best to leave the dead creature where they found it. He told us they did this so others could enjoy it the way they did. His plan worked.

"It didn’t seem to be alive, so the fear quickly waned. We stood back and looked at the beauty of it after we were done being scared. I hope to come across more things like this and be ale to post them and show them to others," Neelans said.

Tunnell told us that in his six years of doing beach surveys, this is the second time he's run into an eel this large and rare. The last time he saw something similar was three years ago.

"It would not surprise me at all if we found more of them washing up in the future. The last one I found was probably three or four years ago. So maybe in three or four years we’ll find another one," Tunnell said.

If researchers come across another king snake eel, they plan on freezing it and handing it off to the University of Texas Fisheries Department where it will be preserved and studied by students.

"It’s a lot that we don’t know about the Gulf of Mexico and what’s in the ocean. I think the more we’re able to learn about it, the more we’re able to care about it, the more people will want to conserve it and protect it," Tunnell said.

If one of these eels washed up dead or alive, Tunnell recommends taking pictures and contacting the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. For more videos on interesting creatures that are found in Port Aransas visit MissionAransasNERR on YouTube. They post new videos every Monday at 1 p.m.