The Longfin eel or Tuna in Māori can be found throughout New Zealand in rivers and inland lakes.

The eel you will see at the National Kiwi Centre are all female and between 80- 110 years old.

They weigh approximately 20kg and are up to 2metres in length. These eels grow at a very slow rate of only 1-2cm per year.

Eels have limited vision, they have rows of sensors on their head known as lateral lines. These help them detect movement in the water.

Eels can travel over land, slithering through wet grass to get to a pond, river or lake.

As long as their skin stays moist they can absorb oxygen through it, enabling them to survive for long periods out f the water.

When an eel is ready to breed (between 24-34 years for a male and 30-60 years for a female) they embark on a long 6month journey back to deep ocean trenches near Tonga; after spawning they die Their young take approximately 18months to swim back to the freshwaters of New Zealand.

What do Eels eat?

Small eels eat insects, worms and water snails. As they get bigger they eat fish and meat, like small birds of ducklings.

Eels have a well-developed sense of smell and hunt via their nose rather than sight. Their tube nostrils protrude above their upper lip and allow them to detect food sources from long distances.

They have a wide mouth with rows of small sharp teeth which point backwards, helping them grip their food and ensuring it doesn’t get away!

Did you know there are three types of Eel found in New Zealand?



Endemic to New Zealand, mainly found in rivers and lakes


Lives in Australia, New Zealand and some Pacific Islands

Spotted Longfin

An occasional visitor, sneaking over from Australia