Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Where Do Eels Come From? (newyorker.com)
156 points by Thevet 12 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 54 comments

I wonder how many things I think I know the answer to but I really don't. I find the https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_common_misconceptions very interesting.

Thank you!

Corrected a few of my own misconceptions:

- Microwave ovens do not heat food due to resonance with water molecules.

- Spacecraft reentering the atmosphere are not heated due to friction.

- Worldwide poverty has not been increasing.

Worldwide poverty has not been increasing.

The rest of those statements are pretty clearly facts. A statement like this is very a matter of statistical interpretation. A lot of the claims of decreasing world poverty stem from a decrease in those said to make "pennies per day" however, such a group could also be describes as "those outside the money economy" and thus an increase in assigned earnings to this group represent decreased poverty is debatable.

See: Bill Gates says poverty is decreasing. He couldn’t be more wrong


"Prior to colonisation, most people lived in subsistence economies where they enjoyed access to abundant commons – land, water, forests, livestock and robust systems of sharing and reciprocity. They had little if any money, but then they didn’t need it in order to live well – so it makes little sense to claim that they were poor. This way of life was violently destroyed by colonisers who forced people off the land and into European-owned mines, factories and plantations, where they were paid paltry wages for work they never wanted to do in the first place."

Really? Back in the 1400 life was just an awesome experience without money, everyone living off unlimited land and having a great time, not worrying about anything, sitting in the jungle or the beach with plenty of food. Yeah, damn, take me back to 1400, life was so awesome then for everyone.

Indeed. Of course more people are better off historically than cavemen, but that's not an indication that poverty is decreasing.

You'll need to define what you mean by poverty. Is someone poor that cannot feed and clothe themselves? Are they poor if they are not certain that they will be able to feed and clothe themselves for the foreseeable future? Are they poor if they have less than x% of the average personal wealth of those within some distance?

And I believe almost all people are better off than cavemen, not just more.

Unfortunately, like "Justice" or "Freedom", poverty is an ambiguous term.

Two people can be using the term in a conversation and be talking about radically different things.

For example, are you talking about the inability for people to find food, shelter and clothing?

Or about level of lifestyle once those needs are met?

I wonder if adiabatic compression in front of a reentering spacecraft could even occur if not for friction.

I think you should ask instead "if not for viscosity".

And I think the answer is yes, for reasons of momentum. If you try to push air out of the way it in turn needs to move other air, etc, etc. Even with zero viscosity, it still needs to to that, which means the pressure goes up, and will therefor heat up.

Is viscosity not a form of friction, just at microscopic level? Honest question. Google seemed to be of two minds.

Friction is a very high-level thermodynamic concept, and I certainly think that fluid friction is effectively the same concept as viscosity.

Yes! I point friends to that article all the time.

The first time I read through it I was surprised at how many of those things I’d always just assumed to be true.

Strong opinions, loosely held!

If this article develops your interest in eels, I highly recommend following "Surprised Eel Historian" (https://twitter.com/greenleejw) on Twitter for approximately daily facts about the role of eels in medieval English society. (Yes, there are really hundreds of new English eel history facts per day.)

Is it just me, or does this article not answer where eels come from? They are from the Sargasso Sea! Oh wait, except we actually went there and checked and... nope. No eels.

Is the article correct that we still have never seen eels mate and have no idea how/where they do it?


Cool, i never realized eels had such a complex life cycle and i didn't know we took so long to learn and understand it.

It's interesting when you compare it to species such as salmon where their life cycle has been understood fairly in depth, independently on two continents for well over 1000 years. Yet salmon also have a fairly complicated that varies from species to species.

I think we understand the basic framework of the Salmon lifecycle but we don't really understand all the details. Certainly not enough to be able to estimate salmon run numbers.

Like unexpected weather, scientists are regularly stumped by extraordinary unexpected amounts of salmon returning to streams both wildly over and under expectations.

True, but by comparison where the separate life stages of eels were believed to be entirely different species up until the 1800', salmon were relatively well known both in North America and Japan.

It was understood what Fry and smolts were. The different species and their specific breeding cycles, including which rivers would contain which species in a given season were known and there was generally a large 'industry' and culture built around them on both sides of the Pacific.

Likewise, from what that article says, eels were a heavy part of many cultures, yet the beliefs around them were fairly ignorant, for lack of a better word, by comparison.

It was a pleasure to read this article. Lots of fun facts and well written. Thanks.

I have often eaten eels but I have never considered how they work

This was a very strange, disconnected and fragmented article by the New Yorker

Why dint they break down the supply chain linearly?

it was written this way to capture the mystery of the eel, and reflect the tone of the book that is being reviewed.

The purpose of the piece is to provide insight and depth. Reading with full comprehension can take patience. Practice.

It is sad, tragic even, that the great writing on natural history is closed you by your own impatience.

This article is not the best of its kind, but it is very, very good. Writing that excels it would frustrate you more, in proportion to its quality. The frustration you feel reading it is a pale echo of that experienced by the myriad scientists and amateurs who puzzled in and out of decades over these questions, originally obscure but enlarged by their obdurity to have become symbolic of questions of our own existence.

Oh please. OP offered a position and asked a simple, direct question. That is customary here.

Your bloviation about great writing offers nothing except a great example of a style you won't find in the New Yorker.

It's a complaint about a long form article.

From the New Yorker!

If you don't like long form articles and you see it is the New Yorker, then don't read it.

If he wanted a quick rundown on the eel life cycle, wikipedia is one click away. That obviously wasn't the purpose of the story.

I guess that the New Yorker doesn't extend the same disapprobation to ending a headline with a preposition as it does to writing "naïve" or "coöperate" without diaeresis.

> disapprobation to ending a headline with a preposition

There is no such rule.


Churchill didn't make the famous joke about it either.


Interesting topic but this article was tedious.


TLDR: They spawn in a few places out in the ocean, then migrate toward coasts as they mature.

European & American eel: North of the Antilles, Haiti, and Puerto Rico

Japanese eel: Near the Mariana Islands

South African eel: North of Madagascar

I thought it was pretty fascinating to read the story of how obsessed scientists enlisted sailors to find smaller and smaller elvers to figure this out. The actual location isn't the interesting part.

I also had no idea that no one has ever seen them mate.

Except, according to the article, we've never even seen mature eels in the Sargasso Sea, we've never seen them mate, and we don't know why their population has fallen so much over a few decades.

> we don't know why their population has fallen so much

Nope, nom, nom, we don't know, nom, nom, why they got so scarce. Is a mystery.

Citation needed. Did eel consumption and fishing increase significantly with industrialization? The article in the OP doesn't offer a single explanation.

> Citation needed

Pvaldes was here, 2020

Doesn't cover Australian or New Zealand eels. The NZ longfinned eel (Anguilla dieffenbachii) is believed to spawn in the Tonga Trench: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tonga_Trench

Funny. As if declaring your opinion changed people's tastes.

I think this type of descent into "storytelling" is one of the anti-patterns of modern journalistic writing. Why isn't there a major push back against these anti-patterns among journalists, I often wonder.

I think this kind of complaint about the elegant use of language in writing is one of the anti-patterns of a modern society trained to communicate in 140 character ALL CAPS shouting. One of the things that I always find fascinating is the level of expression you find in everyday letters by everyday people written in the 19th century. It seems very sad that despite the fact that long form writing is much easier now than when it had to be hand-written in ink people no longer have the patience for writing or reading it.

I am not complaining about elegant use of language; Use of rich language to express complex and nuanced concepts is a good thing. But presenting the whole matter as "Story" is what I find uninteresting, and oftentimes misleading. Give us the facts, the theories and explanations; but telling it as "Story" does really a disservice to readers, and even seems against the spirit of journalism.

What exactly is the spirit of journalism and how did you come to know it through your study of the history of journalism?

Well, the gold standard is what journalists call "inverted pyramid". You start with a TL;DR, and then expand recursively. This way, the reader can get more and more detailed picture as they read on, and stop at the moment they feel they've satisfied their needs.

This is how you present information if you care about your reader. The reason it's not done almost anywhere is because maximizing profit is done by minimizing utility, so that you can drag the curious reader through as many ads as they have patience to bear.

This is the New Yorker! It is not written as a Wikipedia article or even a science article. The New Yorker has a long history with its own voice. You are not necessarily wrong in a generalized statement, but this is not the piece to raise this opinion against.

What you describe is a way to write newspaper articles for impatient and overburdened readers who probably won't finish reading them.

New Yorker stories have a different purpose and a different audience. People who subscribe to the New Yorker like it because it gives them stories written just this way. If you don't, wikipedia is right there. You can tell it will be a New Yorker story because it says so.

I guarantee you that the writing is not that way to "drag" anyone through ads or to strain their patience.

If I had read the story on the toilet at work I would have found this style extremely annoying since has presented as a mystery at the beginning of the article. Reading this story at home on my chick I found it extremely interesting. Not everything has to be a quick read and the article does a good job of introducing the topic so that one can just wikipedia it if they have to

Although the linked article was refreshingly readable, the general answer to your question is because more text = more opportunity to weave adverts in between the paragraphs. Storytelling is an easy way to bulk out the text when your facts are light.

Also, to be less cynical, some people are after entertainment as much as education, and will enjoy reading a story rather than a lecture.

Yeah interestingly the New Yorker does not split articles with ads in the middle. It’s one of their things.

I love the New Yorker and enjoy all of its quirks.

Should say is eel extinct soon ? More click bite and is actually the reason why such an urgent search.

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact