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1985: Electric eels light up Christmas tree

media clip
A couple of electric eels at the Vancouver Aquarium are getting visitors all charged up for Christmas. In this festive 1985 CBC News clip, the Aquarium staff has wired the electric eel tank to the lights on a Christmas tree, hoping the eel-generated electricity will power the lights. When the eels are given some fish to eat, they begin to twitch -- an indication that electrical output is being generated -- and the tree lights up!
• Using the electric eels to light up the tree was a yearly Christmas tradition at the Vancouver Aquarium from the late 1970s until the early 1990s.
• The Vancouver Aquarium officially opened in 1956 as Canada's first public aquarium. The aquarium is now home to 60,000 aquatic creatures, comprised of about 800 different species (2003). Almost 30,000,000 people have visited the Aquarium since 1956.

• Electric eels aren't actually eels. They physically resemble eels, but they're really serpentine fish that can produce electric currents of up to 650 volts. The highest voltages they emit are usually for stunning or killing prey, while their lowest-volt discharges are used for navigation or as an indicator for finding things.
• When not lighting up trees at the Vancouver Aquarium, electric eels are typically found in the Amazon and South American rivers.

• Because they have no teeth, these fish-eating eels need their electric power to render their prey motionless so they can eat them. Other fish aren't always the only ones affected, however -- electric eels have been known to knock down a horse crossing a stream from six metres away. And while humans can usually survive an eel-generated shock, electric eels can potentially shock humans into respiratory paralysis or cardiac failure.

Also on December 20:
1859: Construction of the Parliament buildings in Ottawa begins, starting with the West Block.
1977: Canada withdraws all government support for trade with South Africa because of that country's apartheid policies.
1993: Federal Fisheries Minister Brian Tobin suspends cod fishing in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the southern shore of Newfoundland and Cape Breton because of severely depleted stocks.
Medium: Television
Program: CBC Television News
Broadcast Date: Dec. 20, 1985
Guest(s): Ray Lord
Reporter: Ted Chernecki
Duration: 1:12

Last updated: November 14, 2012

Page consulted on September 10, 2014

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