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BBC Scotland's Colin Wight
"Macduff aquarium boasts many fish but Chippie the star attraction was reluctant to face the cameras"
 real 56k

Thursday, 10 May, 2001, 09:25 GMT 10:25 UK
Head over heels eel goes south
Chippie bagged and ready to go
Chippie is ready to be lifted out
An aquarium has completed an operation to return a lovelorn male conger eel to the wild.

Two-metre-long Chippie the conger eel has been the star attraction at Macduff Marine Aquarium on the shores of the Moray Firth for the last four years.

But recently staff noticed that he was showing signs that he was ready to look for a mate and decided to release him to complete his life cycle.

On Wednesday they successfully completed "Operation Amour" and lured Chippie into a large bag before lifting him into the sea by crane.

Conger eel
Chippie is now swimming south
Conger eels are common in coastal waters around Scotland and mature between the ages of five and seven.

When they are ready to breed, the eels stop eating, lose their teeth and begin a long migration south to an area in the Atlantic between the Azores and Gibraltar.

The eels are known to congregate in deep water, where they spawn before dying.

Before his departure, Chippie, who is believed to be around six or seven years old, had been showing the classic signs of wanting to find a mate.

He had not been eating and had begun swimming around the tank more, convincing staff it was time for him to leave.

'Fraught moment'

Claire Matthews, education officer at the aquarium, said the operation had been a "total success", although there was a "fraught moment" when it looked as if the 40kg eel was not going to allow himself to be caught.

She said: "It was a bit tense. The bag didn't have a huge opening and he swam around it several times.

"Eventually we persuaded him to go in and pulled the bag as tight as possible. After that, it was plain sailing."

Claire Matthews
Claire Matthews: "It couldn't have gone better"
Once in the bag, Chippie was lifted by crane out of the open-top tank and across to the sea a short distance from the aquarium.

He was then freed by divers wearing snorkels and began his journey to the Azores.

Ms Matthews added: "He swam in the right direction and everything, so we were pleased.

"The staff did a great job and the conditions were excellent and it couldn't have gone better.

"The rest is down to Chippie, he has got to make his own way there."

She added: "People came in on their day off and there were tears and everything.

"We went in to feed the fish afterwards as we normally do on a Wednesday and it was a bit weird realising there was no more Chippie."

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