Fish Physiology and Biochemistry

, Volume 36, Issue 3, pp 297–322 | Cite as

Swimming physiology of European silver eels (Anguilla anguilla L.): energetic costs and effects on sexual maturation and reproduction

  • Arjan P. Palstra
  • Guido E. E. J. M. van den Thillart


The European eel migrates 5,000–6,000 km to the Sargasso Sea to reproduce. Because they venture into the ocean in a pre-pubertal state and reproduce after swimming for months, a strong interaction between swimming and sexual maturation is expected. Many swimming trials have been performed in 22 swim tunnels to elucidate their performance and the impact on maturation. European eels are able to swim long distances at a cost of 10–12 mg fat/km which is 4–6 times more efficient than salmonids. The total energy costs of reproduction correspond to 67% of the fat stores. During long distance swimming, the body composition stays the same showing that energy consumption calculations cannot be based on fat alone but need to be compensated for protein oxidation. The optimal swimming speed is 0.61–0.67 m s−1, which is ~60% higher than the generally assumed cruise speed of 0.4 m s−1 and implies that female eels may reach the Sargasso Sea within 3.5 months instead of the assumed 6 months. Swimming trials showed lipid deposition and oocyte growth, which are the first steps of sexual maturation. To investigate effects of oceanic migration on maturation, we simulated group-wise migration in a large swim-gutter with seawater. These trials showed suppressed gonadotropin expression and vitellogenesis in females, while in contrast continued sexual maturation was observed in silver males. The induction of lipid deposition in the oocytes and the inhibition of vitellogenesis by swimming in females suggest a natural sequence of events quite different from artificial maturation protocols.


Semelparous migration Cost of transport Optimal swimming speed Oocyte development Vitellogenesis Spermatogenesis 



The authors would like to thank V.J.T. van Ginneken, J.V. Planas, H.P. Spaink, D. Schnabel, C. Székely, C. Durif, F. Daverat, J. Klein-Breteler, G. van der Laak, M. Nieveen, M. de Bakker, P. Niemantsverdriet, M. Fekkes, W. Spoor, E. Antonissen, M. Casteleijn, R. van der Linden, R. Heijmans, E. de Kuyper, J. Bij, M. Brittijn, S. van Schie, L. Wagenaar, D. Curiel, E. Clavero, J. van Rijssel, M.A. Guerrero, G. Romano, A. Dumadag, D. de Jong and W. Enright. The research was funded by the Dutch Technology Foundation (STW-project #LBI66.4199), the European Union (EELREP #Q5RS-2001-01836) and the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality (projects #320187, #TRCviss/2006/6204). AP is currently a Marie Curie Fellow (project #219971: Swimming for reproduction).

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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Arjan P. Palstra
    • 1
    • 2
  • Guido E. E. J. M. van den Thillart
    • 1
  1. 1.Molecular Cell Biology, Institute of BiologyLeiden University (IBL)LeidenThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Departament de Fisiologia, Facultat de BiologiaUniversitat de BarcelonaBarcelonaSpain

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