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North Carolina Aquariums
Toward a greater understanding of North Carolina's aquatic resources . . .
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Do we have moray eels in North Carolina waters?

January 9, 2007


Ask any diver and you’ll get a definite “Yes!”


There are about 100 species of morays worldwide. The most common morays found in our waters are the green, spotted and reticulate.


These snake-looking fish live in coral reefs and rocky areas, as well as around shipwrecks. They are found worldwide, with the largest living in the Pacific and measuring some 11½ feet long.


One of the most frequent eel sightings in our area is the green moray (Gymnothorax funebris), a bottom-dwelling solitary species. Because of its large size, its bite can be particularly dangerous, however, unless provoked it poses little threat to humans.

Moray Eel

Green morays are territorial and have been known to occupy the same reef for many years.

(Photo by Jacob Rudolph)


Despite small eyes and bad vision, eels are nocturnal. They rely primarily on their strong sense of smell for finding prey. Their camouflaged skin is thick and scaleless and covered with a protective mucous. Their snake-like bodies are almost all muscle, making them very strong.


Aside from their snake-like appearance, eels look particularly fearsome because they constantly open and close their mouths. This is not threatening behavior. Instead, it’s to keep water circulating through their small circular gills. Their gills are located on the each side of their head behind their jaws. Their wide jaws have long, sharp teeth, which they use to catch fish, mollusks and even octopus.


On average, morays measure about 5 feet long. They have few predators, other than large groupers. Some, however, prey on other morays.


Eels are a food resource in some cultures, but certain moray species are toxic to humans.