The honeycomb moray eel at the Two Oceans Aquarium, Lady, has been welcoming our visitors since 1999, which is when he first arrived at the Aquarium, already an adult. Moray eels can live for more than 20 years in captivity, but rarely have a lifespan exceeding 30 years. Earlier this month, our team of animal and medical experts made the difficult but necessary decision to euthanise Lady.

Lady in 2009. Photo by Dagny Warmerdam

Since May last year, we have been concerned about Lady’s overall health and condition. Lady started losing weight and showed little interest in food. Our animal health team transferred him to our clinic, and a thorough medical examination did not present any serious concerns other than some tooth lesions in the back of his mouth, which is a sign of old age.

When Lady started getting sick, we did a thorough medical examination. Photo by Helen Lockhart

At that point, we initiated assisted feeding and supplementation, and he started gaining weight and showed an improved condition, after which he was moved back to his display. However, he required regular intervention to ensure adequate nutrition, and we proceeded with assisted feeding when he showed reduced interest in self-feeding. We continued to monitor him closely and by November decided to also try a course of corticosteroids to hopefully improve his appetite and treat mild inflammation – mainly due to the problems with his teeth.

Lady in 2009. Photo by Jeff Butterworth/Flickr

We were hoping for a good outcome but, after two months of treatment, Lady did not show any improvement. He did not deteriorate during this time, but we could not continue to artificially maintain him in a condition that we felt was not optimal. We therefore had to make the decision that it was in his best interest to be euthanised. Much like saying goodbye to an old family pet, this was an extremely difficult but undoubtedly necessary action to take.

We have tremendous respect and love for this beautiful individual and we know, from a medical and emotional perspective, that to be kind to him, we needed to intervene at this level. If Lady was in the ocean, he would not have survived until this amazing estimated age of over 30 years.

Lady in 2013. Photo by Richie Rocket/Flickr

Every one of us at the Two Oceans Aquarium feels honoured to have worked with Lady for such a long time. He has amazed many a staff member and visitor (nearly 8 million, if our calculations are correct!) and featured in probably thousands of photographs. Lady will be very, very sorely missed.

What's with the name? 

For all this time we thought Lady was a female honeycomb moray eel – hence the name! The post-mortem examination confirmed that Lady was, in fact, a dude.

Lady in 2017. Photo by Alan Rudnicki 

From the post-mortem, we were also able to confirm that Lady had distinct dental disease with pockets of bone loss and probable infection around a number of tooth roots. This would certainly be linked to old age. These teeth could not be repaired and the only solution would have been to remove them. This still would not have dealt with the bone damage in the jawbone, which we had attempted to treat, but we were not able to have enough of a positive impact on this over the last year. Nothing was found that could potentially have been fixed to ensure an even longer (and comfortable life), so we remain convinced that euthanasia was the right decision indeed. He lost approximately 15% of his body weight over the last few months, despite everyone’s best and valiant efforts.

Lady in 2008. 

Thank you, Lady, for all the joy you brought and all the wonder you inspired.

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