One thing that seems to mark the holiday season here at Reef Builders is us finding a cool story about an electric eel powering a Christmas tree. This year is no different except now we found one at an aquarium in the US. The Living Planet Aquarium in Sandy, Utah, took the idea we’ve seen before in Japan and have the eel light up a Christmas display in the aquarium’s “Journey to South America” gallery.
We originally saw the electric eel story back in 2007 at a public aquarium in Kamakura, Japan, just south of Tokyo. The electric eel has notoriously bad eyesight and uses electricity to stun prey, so as they move, they produce electrical current that is collected and used to power the lights. In this display, the eel powers a 5 ft. tree nearby the tank and the unique movements of the eel cause different lights to flash on the tree, giving visitors a pleasant surprise.
For the last three years, Sparky the electric eel that is part of the South American gallery, has been powering the display at the Living Planet. Two stainless steel electrodes capture the current then convert it to the electronic pulses via sequencers. The more voltage Sparky creates, the more the lights flash.
“We took the voltage produced by the eel via stainless steel electrodes and used it to power a sequencer,” said Terry Smith, project manager at Cache Valley Electric. “The sequencer takes the voltage the eel produces and operates circuitry that flashes the lights, fast or slow, based on the level of voltage he puts out.”
The original tank in Japan used a copper wire that when the eel touched it, would capture the current and convert it to power the display.