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Zoom with fish: Tokyo aquarium wants people to video chat with its eels

An aquarium in Japan is asking folks at home to video chat with its garden eels to give the creatures some company and help them maintain familiarity with humans.

Sumida Aquarium, located at the base of Tokyo’s enormous Skytree tower, closed its doors to the public at the beginning of March due to the coronavirus outbreak, but it seems the eels are beginning to miss the regular stream of excited visitors.

The spindly creatures (pictured below) partially bury themselves in the sand, hiding beneath it if disturbed. The 300 eels at the aquarium have become comfortable with visitors, staying in full view of them instead of hiding away. But a short time after the recent closure, staff noticed how the creatures were beginning to retreat into the sand when they approached the tanks, the Guardian reported. The situation is a concern as it makes it harder for them to assess the health of the animals.

Believing that lack of interaction has once again caused the eels to fear humans, Sumida Aquarium called upon members of the public to fire up their smartphones for a video chat with the eels from May 3 through 5. Think “Zoom with fish.”

Garden eels
Garden eels awaiting a video call. Andrey Nekrasov/Barcroft Media/Getty Images

Describing the three-day event as a “face-showing festival,” the aquarium invited people to “show your face to our garden eels from your home” in a bid to calm the creatures and help them stay familiar with their human friends.

Workers at the attraction set up five tablets beside the tanks, with people invited to connect via a smartphone or tablet. Video callers are each given five minutes with the elongated fish, during which time they’re invited to wave and chat to the aquatic creatures. While the idea of giving an eel a call may seem a little absurd, the aquarium will happily consider it a worthwhile exercise if it helps the fish to become comfortable with humans again ahead of its reopening.

It’s not the first time we’ve heard of animals joining video chats. Last month a company in North Carolina started offering folks the chance to invite a horse called Eddie or a donkey called Mambo to their Zoom calls. The idea is to inject some fun into a process that for some remote workers may have become a bit stale as the lockdowns drag on. It’s not clear how busy the animals have been, or indeed if they’ve managed to make any useful contributions during the calls.

Whether you’re interested in video conferencing with co-workers, friends, or Eddie the horse, Digital Trends has some useful suggestions for the best software to help make it happen.

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