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91. Marbled Snake Eel (Callechelys marmorata)


The Marbled Snake Eel (Callechelys marmorata), a nightly hunter of small fish and crustaceans, spends most of the day hidden in the seabed. The Marbled Snake Eel belongs to the family of snake eels (Ophichthidae), which are serpentine-shaped fish inhabiting the shallow benthic areas of the world's oceans. The Marbled Snake Eel however is found in the Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean, from Africa's east coast to the islands of French Polynesia. These snake-like fish, measuring up to 90cm/35 inches, prefer sandy and/or muddy bottoms near coral reefs where they venture out at night in search of food.

Before sunrise, these fish return to the sandy substrate and burrow themselves backward into the sand using their sharp tail. Most of their body, with black spots and a yellowish white marble-like appearance, remains hidden under the substrate. Only their head is visible during the daytime, but when the eel senses danger, it quickly retreats completely under the sand.

Due to their burying behaviour during the day, their gills don't receive the same amount of oxygen as those of free-swimming fish. That is why they continuously open and close their mouth to pump oxygen-rich water over their gills, a breathing process similar to that of moray eels.


To capture satisfying images and gain an overall understanding of an animal that is buried over 80% under the sand, it was important to film it from different angles. Approaching a subject like this was easy without risking it fleeing. The worst-case scenario was the snake eel retreating under the sand, only to reappear once I had left the area. Fortunately, within an area of approximately 20 square meters (215 square feet) or so, four more snake eels resided, allowing me to turn around and film another individual if one went into hiding.

I also filmed the jet stream of sand coming from the Snake Eel's buried gills in a close-up shot. I believe this shot contributes to the overall story. In addition to capturing the breathing sounds, I added typical sand and gravel movement sounds to accentuate the snake eel's breathing process.

When filming an underwater critter, ensure that your camera is at the same horizontal level and, if possible, film slightly upward. Avoid filming downward as it rarely produces quality images. To avoid shaky footage, in a situation like this, you can place your camera on the substrate. Since your subject is completely static and immobile, your camera can remain stationary and anchored on the bottom as well.

Some underwater videographers prefer mounting their underwater camera housings on tripods to achieve stable images. Personally, I prefer placing my camera on the bottom because tripods often elevate the camera too much, which forces you to film downward. While tripods can be useful when filming on reefs, it is best to position your camera at the bottom level to capture good footage on sandy slopes where everything is essentially in only two dimensions. The lower your camera is positioned, the higher the overall image quality.

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