CLAIM: That THe Common Euiropean Eel (Anguilla anguilla) migrates many thousand miles to breed in it’s ancestral grounds in the Sargasso Sea because that was where Atlantis once was.
The first thing my colleague sent me on this particular claim was a link to a PDF, an excerpt from Lyall Watson’s book, “Supernature”. The part he particularly wanted me to read was this:
The freshwater eel Anguilla anguilla spends most of its life in the rivers of western Europe, but it is
not born there. Young elvers suddenly appear in the coastal waters each year, and their origin was a
complete mystery until Johann Schmidt made his classic study in the 1930s. (276) He compiled data
on the size of eel larvae found at different places in the Atlantic and, plotting these on a map, traced
their point of origin to a spot where the smallest ones most often occurred. This proved to be the
Sargasso Sea, midway between the Caribbean and the bulge of equatorial Africa, three thousand miles
from Europe. It seems that eels spawn at a great depth in these waters in the spring, and the tiny,
transparent, leaflike larvae float up nearer to the surface in the summer.
They are wafted away by the North Equatorial Current and into the Gulf Stream, in which they spend
three years slowly drifting toward Europe and growing until they are about three inches in length. As
soon as they reach coastal waters, the leaf larvae undergo a remarkable transformation into little,
pearly-white, cylindrical elvers that avoid salt water and invade the river estuaries. They make their
way relentlessly inland, wriggling up waterfalls, slithering across meadows on rainy nights, and even
climbing up to the mountain streams ten thousand feet high in the Alps. In chosen backwaters and
pools they settle down to a quiet life that may last until the males are fourteen and the females over
twenty years old. Then, suddenly they are struck by an urgent need to return to salt water; their whole
hormonal system undergoes a tremendous change and they become fat and silvery, with mucus on
These powerful silver eels abandon their lakes and pools, often striking out over land in the dark,
resting up in damp holes during the day, where they breathe through the water retained in their gill
chambers until it is possible to continue their compulsive flight to the sea. When they reach the ocean,
Schmidt assumed that they travel deep under water in a countercurrent, swimming in the dark for a
year on their epic journey back to the spawning grounds in the Sargasso. But Denys Tucker has
discovered that the moment the eels enter salt water, their anuses close up and they are therefore
unable to feed and must live entirely on their internal stores of fat. (324) These resources are not
enough for the vast effort needed to swim three thousand miles, so Tucker believes that they die
without ever breeding. He calls the European eel ‘only a useless waste product of the American eel’,
which was once assumed to be a different species, Anguilla rostrata, but could be just a variation of
the same form produced by a different environment. Both American and European forms come from
the Sargasso Sea as larvae, and it could be true that only the American adults are close enough to the
breeding grounds to be able to return and lay new eggs.
It has been suggested that the Sargasso Sea was once the site of an island sea on the lost continent of
Atlantis and that the eels are simply trying to return to their ancestral breeding ground. It is certain that
the eels are intent on breeding when they leave the European rivers; their gonads are fully developed,
but no adult has yet been found in the deep Atlantic, and no eel marked in Europe has ever been
recovered from the Sargasso Sea. A more likely explanation is that the journey was once much
shorter, but the continents have drifted apart and the European adults are now just a ‘waste product’
and destined to die of exhaustion in their impossible attempt to return to the place where they hatched.
There is no biological reason why they should not stop and breed somewhere closer, perhaps in the
waters off the Azores, but the response to a situation that existed millions of years ago still persists
and drives them to destruction.
We are seeing in the behavior of each generation of living eels the shadow of something that happened
a long time ago. It is like looking out at a star that we can see exploding, knowing that it actually
happened a billion years ago and that we are looking at something that long ago ceased to exist. We
witness, in both eel and star, an event of the remote past taking place in our present. Space and time
become inseparable, and when we cannot think of one without the other, time ceases to be the old, onedimensional
unit of classical physics, and the combination space-time becomes a new factor - the fourdimensional
First of all I did some research (which is what led me here) and listened to Garrett Fagan on podcast as he mentioned Atlantis, did further research on the eel itself and then pointed out to him that there was no evidence that these eels were doing anything extraordinary, that many species migrate huge distances to breed, that the myth of Atlantis has no validatable supporting evidence (artefacts in context etc.) and that claims for its location have been everywhere in the world.
I also wrote to a friend who replied:
Weird stuff. At first glance he seems to be doing ‘excrapolation’.
Essentially he’s taking lots of individually valid points and then putting his own next step despite there being no evidence for it. The best example is his approach to the I Ching.
He essentially describes books dealing with the I Ching as if they are authoritative sources on the quality of the system instead of being prefaces to a snake oil pitch. He then explains how there could be a mechanism to explain its uncanny accuracy (unproven, merely asserted and as we know, rubbish) that is merely dependent upon the reality of revealed telekinesis (unproven, merely asserted and as we know, rubbish). It’s teleology again, he declares that the I Ching is accurate and then looks for a way to explain that. He doesn’t find a mechanism that could affect the spinning coin and then test that against the predictions. He writes very well however, something that only adds to the guile of his deceit.
As for the eels? I’m sure they’re fascinating and I’m no expert on their behaviour but I suppose I’d ask a couple of things. Firstly there are strong evolutionary reasons for a population to follow a very well-known migration path and the most important is the careful exploitation of known resources (returning to places that are known to be successful) while permitting expansion into new territories (after all some will get lost or swept off course). The process does, however, rely on the migration path being anchored at both ends. If the eels are regularly leaving the Sargasso and swimming to Europe then that’s not fluke, they’re following a well rehearsed routine. Accordingly I would guess (remembering that it’s all it can be) that failure to find examples of successful European migrant eels is a failure of the experiment, not the eel. How successful has marking American eels and finding them again been? It isn’t clear from the text.
Secondly even if the entire biological story, odd though it is, is true it still provides exactly no evidence for the ancient civilization of Atlantis. There is no evidence for Atlantis.
Two bits were very true though. The description of how superstitions start is fairly accurate (though the author carefully avoids applying the logic to the snake-oil in the chapter) and the suggestion that the bone in the fire protects the wilderness may or may not be true in real terms but is certainly possible and would provide a possible real advantage, real magic, though I’d want an anthropologist to talk me through the implications. I could imagine an example where hunters approach a shaman and ask for where they should hunt. The Shaman says ‘West, on the plains’ and the hunters head out. A youngster in the group points out they’re heading south towards the river and an old hunter says, ‘Yes, we always hunt by the river.’
Superstitions aren’t only for the people you think, they may help hold a community together and establish a culture.
Ultimately the answer to all of this is something like: If they’d found Atlantis or real evidence of it then it would have made all the papers.
Anyone know anything about this subject or about this Lyall Watson?