This guy knows firsthand just what the shock from an electric eel feels like — and he did it all in the name of science. Kenneth Catania put his arm out in harms way just so he could better understand exactly what a zap from this creature would feel like and what it could do outside of the water.
Catania happens to be a professor at Vanderbilt University who experienced the jolt after the eel jumped from the water and gave him a shock similar to that of an electric fence. His report about the encounter was published today in the journal Current Biology.
Many have documented the underwater jolts, but there really isn’t much captured about observing shocks out of water. According to the story on The Verge, we have to go back over 200 years before there is an account by German naturalist Alexander von Humboldt when locals he hired used horses and mules to bait electric eels so he could study them. According to the story, the eels jumped and shocked the animals (killing two horses at least), until they wore themselves out and could be collected.
It was a similar experience for Catania when he was dipping a net into a tank of eels and some dodged the net and hit the handle and ZAPPPP! The electrical current measuring device he had in the aquarium was hooked up to a speaker and he even could hear the electricity “shift from the quiet pop-pop-pops used to sense their surroundings, to much higher voltage, crackling volleys.”
This got him thinking that they may have a defense mechanism outside the water too, as a defense for land-based creatures. This led to more research and his eventual “F%#k it!” decision to volunteer to stick his arm near an eel to get shocked.
It turns out, the airborne shocks are more powerful than those in water since the electricity is delivered in a highly targeted way — at the point of contact. I have to commend him for being crazy enough to do it.