I don’t think I have ever clicked into an article faster than I did the one National Geographic posted recently about… well, eels all fucked up on cocaine. But of course the substance of the story is hardly amusing. It turns out that yes, eels are getting high in the wild because there’s cocaine in our rivers, and that even diluted coke-water is potentially detrimental to the health of the already-endangered European eel.
Drugs like cocaine are entering our waterways thanks to wastewater from cities and towns, where… people do drugs. It’s our fault, naturally. And thus the drugs are impacting the ecosystem — which is particularly bad news for the European eel, because they already have a rough life. They typically spend 15-20 years hanging out in rivers before making a 3,700 mile trip across the Atlantic to spawn in the Sargasso Sea. Dams, overfishing, and water pollution (including antibiotics, pesticides, and heavy metals) are some of the factors that are helping to endanger this species — so finding out that they’re also susceptible to cocaine is just an added insult.
But what does cocaine do to the European eel? After submitting eels to 50 days in water that was coked-up to average river levels (plus a 10-day detox), researchers shared their findings in a study published in the Science of the Total Environment. At first, the eels appeared, uh… a bit hyper. Obviously. But otherwise their general health was no different than that of sober eels. However, closer inspection revealed that the drug accumulated in the tissues, causing muscle swelling and breakdown as well as hormonal changes. The skeletal muscle damage and increased cortisol levels could inhibit their ability to make their mating journey to the Sargasso Sea, while increased dopamine levels could prevent them from reaching sexual maturity at all. And these changes were present even after the rehab period.
So with these eels already critically endangered, what can we do? People could, you know, stop doing drugs.
Daniel Snow, the director of the Water Sciences Laboratory at the University of Nebraska, who was not involved in this research, is skeptical the problem will be solved by stopping illicit drug use.
“If that was the solution, then laws would actually stop use. There is no evidence that laws actually do control use,” he says.
So instead, most of the emphasis is on improving the wastewater processing and treatment, which could prevent cocaine and other pollutants from reaching the ecosystem at all.
And that, friends, is the sad story of the endangered coke eels. Which I was hoping would just be a fun “nature’s weird!” segue into me sharing this beloved Mighty Boosh clip, but things took a turn. Alas.
Uh, I’m gonna share the clip anyway. Obvs.