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What It's Like to Be Bitten by a Moray Eel

By Michelle Pugh as told to Brooke Morton | Updated On December 9, 2018
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What It's Like to Be Bitten by a Moray Eel

moray eel bite

One scuba diver recounts her experience of what it's like to be bitten by a moray eel.

Steven P. Hughes

The morning the call came in, I thought nothing of it. A local ­fisherman rang to say he had fresh tuna. I swung by ­before work, stocking the five-gallon bucket we used for daily fish feeds offered through Dive Experience, the St. Croix scuba center I own. I didn’t think about how fresh catch deviated from our procedure — typically, I’d chop fish into bite-size pieces, then freeze it all.

Conditions were calm that day. I jumped in, telling everyone to meet me at the bottom at 65 feet. When I reached 55 feet, a barracuda nosed in, making a pass around me. I thought I’d give it a piece of fish while I waited. As soon as I opened the bucket, a thick cloud of blood gushed out. Up shot an eel, swimming toward me at a million miles an hour, biting the water column all around me. Snap! Snap! Snap!

Then I heard the crunch right by my ear. I felt a rip in my neck.

I turned and saw my co-worker Sam. In that moment, I knew it really wasn’t good. His eyes were gigantic. I dropped the bucket and he darted to me, grabbing my neck and holding it closed.

We swam to the boat, where I continued to bleed. I was still feeling OK. No main artery had been punctured. I learned ­later that I was in shock. I didn’t feel any pain, despite the high number of nerves in my neck that had been affected.

And so we drove, first to a nearby vet who I knew was good at stitches. He wasn’t in, so we continued on to the ER.

Seeing me in a bathing suit and ­covered in blood, the staff assumed it was a shark attack. I got in right away. Sixteen stitches later, they sent me on my way. My neck was bandaged for weeks, ­making it hard to sleep.

Through it all, I never blamed the eel. I remember thinking: It was the fresh tuna. Everyone loves fresh tuna.

Once healed, I continued the fish-feed dives. To this day, I have a scar. It clearly looks like a bite mark.

More important, I know I’m lucky. If that bite had been an eighth of an inch over, closer to my jugular, I would be dead.