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Images: A Slithery Ocean Mystery

Eels have a fascinating life cycle. Hatched in the Sargasso Sea, they migrate as larvae to freshwater habitats on the Eastern Seaboard, where they develop into adults before returning to the ocean to spawn. (Illustration by Eric S. Taylor, WHOI Graphic Services, with stage sketches by Salvor Gissurardottir)
The Sargasso Sea is the only sea in the world without a coastline. It is surrounded by a clockwise-circulating system of ocean currents that together create the North Atlantic Subtropical Gyre. The sea is named after seaweed of the genus Sargassum, which floats abundantly on its surface. Scientists think that American eels spawn somewhere in the southwest corner of the Sargasso Sea. The eels migrate as tiny larvae to fresh waters along the coast, where they spend their adult lives. Where the adults spawn and how the larvae migrate to the coast both remain mysteries. (Illustration by Eric S. Taylor, WHOI Graphic Services)
WHOI physical oceanographer Larry Pratt doubted the prevailing theory that eel larvae passively drift on ocean currents from eels' spawning grounds in the Sargasso Sea to the coast of North America, catalyzing a more detailed study that proved the prevailing theory wrong. (Photo by Tom Kleindinst, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)
WHOI physical oceanographer Irina Rypina and colleagues have investigated the various factors that affect the migration of eel larvae from their Sargasso Sea hatchery to freshwater habitats on the Eastern Seaboard. (Photo by Tom Kleindinst, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)
Physical oceanographers Irina Rypina and Larry Pratt knew a lot about ocean circulation, but for their study of eel migration, they needed more information on fish, so they enlisted the help of WHOI biologist Joel Llopiz. (Photo by Daniel Cojanu)
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