There are approximately 200 species of Moray Eel, most of which are exclusively marine although a small number inhabit brackish water and fresh water. Its eyes are small and vision limited, so the eel relies on a sophisticated sense of smell to detect prey, which consists primarily of cephalopods and crustacea. They possess one long dorsal fin that extends from the neck to the anal fin, allowing smooth propulsion through the water. Snake-like in appearance, with wide mouths full of misshapen teeth, the Moray Eel looks ferocious but is in fact a shy, mostly solitary creature living most of its life in burrows and caves.

For some species, the only regular companions are cleaner shrimp, which live in a symbiotic relationship with the eel. The shrimp congregate in teams called a ‘cleaning station’ and move across the whole body of the eel – including inside the mouth – removing parasites and dead skin, which is their food. This cleaning ensures good health for the eel, so both species benefit.

Above: segment from the film Coral Sea Dreaming showing Cleaner Shrimp at work. How many different kinds of shrimp can you see ?

Humans need the services of other humans to keep them healthy, like hair-dressers, dentists and surgeons. For the Moray Eel, the cleaner shrimp is most vital. All marine animals need to be cleaned of parasites and dead skin so they don’t succumb to disease. The cleaner shrimp will even enter the gaping mouth of the eel to do its job properly!