Documentarian James Prosek notes in the closing moments of the new PBS Nature documentary The Mystery of Eels that it’s good that some things remain a mystery. Taken in the context of the moment, this makes sense. In the case of this latest feature, it doesn’t do much in terms of eliminating the mystery around eels. But it does present these largely misunderstood creatures in a much more positive light, thus generating more respect for them as part of the world’s ecosystems.
The Mystery of Eels clocks in at nearly an hour long. Over the course of the feature, audiences see different groups of people around the world and the different views that different cultures have regarding the eel. From being revered for their capital value in Japan to a means of living in another region and being held in high regard as past relatives in another culture, viewers see just why the eel is so important. There are those who would look at this episode of Nature as coming from something of an environmentalist standpoint. It is true that there are some slightly activist leanings here. But when it comes to the case of eels, this can be forgiven much as the case is with sharks, bats, and other animals in danger of being wiped out. Just as sharks and bats have bad reputations, so do eels. Misconceptions have been made by cartoons and television in general. But as one will see in this program, the views that people have about eels are just that; misconceptions. They learn that eels mean humans no harm, and that they are just as important to the world’s ecosystems. This is something very valuable especially for younger viewers to learn and just as important of a reminder for older audiences.
Understanding the importance of the eel in various cultures is interesting in itself. Understanding that they are not just the monstrous creatures that have been caricatured by the media is even more important and interesting. And that is exactly what audiences will understand in this feature. Audiences will see here that there is no electricity shooting off of the body of an eel. And while they are carnivores, they have been proven to be anything but the killer creatures that they have far too often been made out to be. Rather, they are quite tame. As viewers will see late in the program, they are so tame that humans in one part of the world are able to go up to them in their natural setting and run their hands along the body of the fish. These same people see the eel as the spirit of past relatives just as Native Americans have seen certain animals as the spirits of their past relatives. Who would have ever thought that an eel could play such an important role in the culture of a given people?
While some peoples of the world hold the eel in high regard spiritually and religiously, others still use the fish as a food product. Because of that, they see the importance of protecting eels, as they are being overfished. Prosek takes viewers to the Catskill Mountains and to Japan to examine the importance of the eel in both regions and what is being done to protect them and help them flourish. As odd as this may seem, it is truly an eye opener and will create a wholly different view on this misunderstood fish just as with the understanding of its cultural importance.
The Mystery of Eels is one of the most interesting episodes of PBS’ long-running Nature series. Eels have a bad reputation. And maybe that’s why it has taken so long for someone to come to their defense, so to speak. But it’s a good thing that someone finally has. Because James Prosek has done so, viewers will hopefully now see that much like other misunderstood creatures of the world, these creatures deserve just as much respect as any other creature. They may not be the most beautiful or graceful. But as this documentary feature shows, they are creatures that are just as important to the world as any other. And understanding this will hopefully create more understanding and respect for the eel.
The Mystery of Eels will be available Tuesday, May 21st. It can be ordered direct online via the PBS online store at http://www.shoppbs.org/product/index.jsp?productId=19729726&cp=&kw=the+mystery+of+eels&origkw=The+Mystery+of+Eels&sr=1#Details.
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