The European Eel: A Marvellous Creature in Perilous Waters

This exhibition was commissioned in order to share with the public some of the findings of the research that we at the Beastly Business project have undertaken over the past two years.

Our team set out to investigate the threats faced by three European species: bears, songbirds and eels. My area of research was the European Eel, whose population stock has decreased so dramatically in the past couple of decades that they are now considered critically endangered. But despite this dire situation, there is no widespread awareness of their endangerment or, for that matter, their very existence. It may be that their slippery, slimy appearance has prevented us from paying them as much attention as we do other endangered animals. They are not the most attractive creatures – it is understandable that our first instinct may be to recoil and look away. However, anyone who has resisted this impulse and stop to take a close look at the European Eel can tell you that they are fascinating, even lovable, creatures.

‘What is there to love?’ you may ask. Well, in my opinion, the story of the European Eel is a story of endangerment and resilience. In following its lifecycle we are brought along on an epic journey: we start in their spawning grounds in the Sargasso Sea, before moving past predators, turbines, blocked rivers and polluted waters, to the shores of Scandinavia, the rivers of France, and the estuaries of Turkey. Eventually, decades later, these tiny little glass eels will have matured into brawny silver eels, that will then swim all the way back to the Sargasso Sea to spawn and die.

Each drawing in this exhibition is accompanied by a quote from a research participant or an excerpt from my fieldwork notes. In this way, I have tried to encapsulate the spirit of what I discovered: the varied voices heard, the perspectives collected, and the lessons learned. The exhibition illustrates the ways in which humans have interacted with this wonderful species across the centuries, as well as some of the perils that now threaten their very survival. It is an invitation to take another look at eels (as unappealing as you may find them at first!), to get to know them and love them as I have, and to do what you can to ensure that future generations will have this privilege too.

Our thanks to all of the research participants, who gave us their time and offered their knowledge—your input is the cornerstone of our study. We are also grateful to the UK Economic and Social Research Council, who funded this project. Last, but certainly not least, we thank Sergio, the artist who brought our love for eels to life through his wonderful illustrations.

It is my pleasure to present to you ‘The European Eel: A Marvellous Creature in Perilous Waters’. We hope you enjoy it.

Dr. Laura Gutiérrez and the Beastly Business team

About the Artist

Sergio González Rosas is a plastic artist, composer and music producer from Bogotá, Colombia. His work predominantly revolves around the illusion of control and chance.

With more than 10 years exploring metal engraving as his favorite technique, he has found in drawing and photography the pillars of his plastic production. He frequently expresses himself in themes that allude to chance and the fragility of memory, proposing landscapes and creatures that evoke empathy in the unsuspecting viewer who thinks they know for sure what they are seeing.

His work has been exhibited in different parts of Colombia, as well as in New York, Mexico and Macedonia. Selected as a finalist for the “Colsánitas and Spanish Embassy Young Art Award” in Bogotá in 2018, Sergio is currently dedicated to developing work seeking an interdisciplinary nature between music and plastic arts with projects that start from sound compositions and are later translated to plastic work with specialized software tools for music production.