The "face-showing festival" starts on May 3.

By Cailey Rizzo
May 01, 2020
Garden Eels in an aquarium
Credit: Kitty Yang / EyeEm VIA GETTY

An aquarium in Japan has discovered that social isolation is even affecting eels.

When caretakers at Tokyo's Sumida Aquarium passed by the tanks housing its spotted garden eels, the animals burrowed into the sand to avoid the humans. The aquarium believes the new behavior is because the eels have become unfamiliar with people since it closed on March 1 due to the coronavirus.

While garden eels are known to burrow in the sand when they feel frightened, the aquarium is concerned that the burrowing will affect scientists’ ability to study the eels.

“The disappearance of the Chinese eels made it difficult for the breeding staff to check whether they are doing well, whether they are healthy, are they thin, and are they ill,” a press release said.

To help the eels feel at home again, the aquarium is launching an “emergency” three-day event, asking people around the world to video call the eels and help them reacclimate to humans starting May 3. The “face-showing festival” aims to remind the eels about “the existence of humans.”

It is the aquarium’s first attempt at reacclimating animals to humans through technology so they are not sure whether or not it will be successful. The eels may remain burrowed in the sand while people attempt to call.

Using an iPad or iPhone, virtual visitors can wave or call out to the eels — but not too loudly — for five minutes at a time. From May 3 through 5, visitors will be able to call the aquarium from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Japanese time (9 p.m. to 1 a.m. ET). There are five different cameras that will be set up for callers.

For more information on how to connect to the eels, visit the aquarium’s website (link in Japanese) for the iCloud addresses.

While the aquatic species may be feeling afraid during quarantine, species around the world including penguins at Chicago's Shedd Aquarium and goats in a quaint Welsh town have been thriving.