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Long-nosed eel Synaphobranchus pinnatus (Gronow) 1854

[Jordan and Evermann, 1896-1900, p. 351.]

Long-nosed eel (Synaphobranchus pinnatus)

Figure 72.—Long-nosed eel (Synaphobranchus pinnatus), La Have Bank. From Goode and Bean. Drawing by H. L. Todd.


This deep-sea species, a typical eel in general appearance, is readily identifiable among its tribe by the fact that while its dorsal fin originates about as far back as in the common eel (p. 151), relative to the length of the fish, its point of origin is considerably behind the vent instead of in front of the latter, and that its anal fin originates considerably in front of the dorsal fin instead of behind it as is the case in all other Gulf of Maine eels. Furthermore, its mouth is much wider, gaping far back of the eye, and its snout is pointed. The most interesting anatomic characteristic of this eel is that its gill openings, opening longitudinally on the lower side of the throat, join together in front, apparently as a single V-shaped aperture, though actually they are separate within.


Grayish, darkest below, with the vertical fins darker behind but pale-edged in front, and with the inside of the mouth blue black.


The largest of 89 specimens measured by Goode and Bean was nearly 22 inches (545 mm.) long, the smallest about 9 inches (221 mm.) The largest we trawled on the Caryn, in June 1949, was 24 inches (605 mm.) long. Collett[77] mentions one 26½ inches (675 mm.) long from the Azores.


Nothing is known of its habits except that it is a ground fish; that the readiness with which it bites a baited hook proves it predaceous; and that specimens in spawning condition have been taken in summer.[78] On June 17, 1949 in lat. 42° 38' N., long. 64° 04' W., in 400-460 fathoms, we trawled many on the Caryn, both males and females, 18½ to 24 inches (470-605 mm.) long that had well developed gonads, one female having already spawned. The ripe eggs are orange in color and about 1 mm. in diameter. In its development it passes through a leptocephalus stage even more slender than that of the American conger (p. 156), and its body segments (144-149) overlap those of the American conger (140-149) in number.

General range—

This deep-water species has a wide distribution. In the western side of the North Atlantic it has been taken at many localities along the continental slope from the offing of South Carolina to the Grand Banks; it is known in the east from the Cape Verdes; off Morocco; from the Canaries; from the Azores; near Madeira; also from the Faroe Bank and Faroe-Shetland Channel. And its leptocephalan larvae have been taken in such numbers from north of Spain to south of Iceland that it must be one of the most plentiful of deep-water fishes there.[79] It is also recorded off Brazil in the South Atlantic; likewise in the Arabian Sea; about the Philippines; and in Japanese waters, or is represented there by a very close relative. Most of the captures have been from depths of 300 to about 2,000 fathoms, but it has been taken as shoal as 129 fathoms.

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Occurrence in the Gulf of Maine—

This eel has not actually been reported within the geographic limits of the Gulf. But it is to be expected in the eastern channel and possibly above 150 fathoms along the slopes of Georges Bank, for fishermen have caught them in water as shallow as that off La Have Bank, while they have been trawled in 168 fathoms and 129 fathoms off southern New England by the Fish Hawk and Albatross. So many of them have been brought in by fishermen[80] from deep water off the fishing banks to the eastward of longitude 65°, and so many have been trawled along the continental slope thence westward,[81] that this eel must be one of the commonest of fishes below 150 to 200 fathoms, all the way from the Grand Banks to abreast of New York.

[77] Result. des Camp. Sci. Prince de Monaco, Pt. 10, 1896, p. 154.

[78] The "leptocephalus" larvae of the long-nosed eel are described, with photographs by Schmidt (Rapp. et Proc. Verb. Cons. Perm. Internat. Explor. Mer, vol. 5, No. 4, 1906. p. 191, pl. 9, figs. 4-6; and Meddel. Komm Havundersøgelser, Ser, Fiskeri, vol. 3, No. 6, 1909, p. 7).

[79] This fact is commented on by Schmidt (Rapp. Cons. Perm. Internat. Explor. Mer, vol. 5, No. 4, 1906, p. 191). For further details as to its distribution see Koefoed, Rept. Michad Sars North Atlantic Exped., (1910), vol. 4, Pt. 1, 1927, pp. 11, 14.

[80] Many such instances are listed in the Rept. U. S. Comm. Fish. (1879) 1882, p. 787.

[81] Goode and Bean, Smithsonian Contrib. Knowl., vol. 30, 1895, pp. 143-144.