Eels smelling alcohol

Various sources report that the sense of smell of the eel is so acute, that if you were to pour a few drops of alcohol into the Great Lakes (or Lake Constance, according to who's telling the story), an eel would be able to smell it.

From Consider the Eel, by Richard Schweid:

"You can take one liter of a certain type of alcohol, pour it into the Great Lakes, and an eel will smell it," said Uwe Kils, a 48-year-old German oceanographer at the Rutgers Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences field station at Little Egg Harbor on the New Jersey coast. "The Great Lakes compose about 19 trillion liters, so you are talking about being able to smell something at one part per 19 trillion. That's a very acute sense of smell."

And from The Eel, by F.W. Tesch & R.J. White:

In painstaking conditioning experiments it was shown that the eel can perceive the scent of roses (β-phenylethyl alcohol) even when the latter is diluted by 1:2.857 X 1018. Such a degree of dilution corresponds to a solution of one ml of scent in a volume of water 58 times that of Lake Constance (Bodensee).

The original source from which this info seems to come is a 1957 article in a German scientific journal: Teichmann, Harald. (January 1957), Das Riechvermögen des Aales (Anguilla anguilla L.). Naturwissenschafter 44(7), 242.

     Posted By: Alex - Tue Jun 28, 2016
     Category: Animals

I'm always skeptical of such statements. The same things are said about the use of dogs for illegal drug interdiction. It has been shown that many times that the humans manipulate the dogs to show false positive indications in order to perform illegal searches.
Posted by KDP on 06/28/16 at 10:55 AM
How about sharks being able to smell blood at just a few parts per billion? They also are very sensitive to very small electrical charges. Sharks really are a killing machine.
Posted by Patty in Ohio, USA on 06/28/16 at 07:00 PM
Sounds like my parents when I was younger. I swear, it was only cough syrup, mom. Don't say you can smell alcohol on my breath!
Posted by Greg on 06/29/16 at 06:27 AM
So how do the eels tell you they can smell whatever? Sniffer dogs have a way of showing their handler they've found something (such as barking, suddenly sitting or scratching at the location), but does the eel suddenly point its whole body in a particular direction or what?

KDP, that brought the counting horse (ass, donkey or whatever - a quadruped) to mind, where it could only solve math problems if its usual handler was present.
Posted by TheCannyScot in Atlanta, GA on 06/29/16 at 12:45 PM
Apparently eels react in a particular and observable way when exposed to alcohol.
Posted by Patty in Ohio, USA on 06/29/16 at 01:58 PM
I feel sure that β-phenylethyl alcohol is way far from anything you would want to put on your skin or down your gullet. It probably smells like a rose nuclear bomb.

Publishing on the olfactory capability of eels sounds like something done on a gubment grant. I always hope that something practical also comes from the people involved in this sort of silliness.
Posted by Virtual on 06/29/16 at 04:48 PM
@Virtual -- Ever see a utility company employee walking around with what looks like a long stick on a box? That's a gas sniffer, detecting natural gas leaks too small for a person to smell. That's the kind of real-world tech which comes from research like this.

Unless there's been a breakthrough in the last fifteen years which I didn't hear about, there are still mysteries in how the sense of smell really works -- we know the gross mechanism, but there are a multitude of fine points which defy analysis (and some defy logic).
Posted by Phideaux on 06/30/16 at 10:30 AM
Yep, Phideaux, I got less sanguine about this after reading "Confessions of a Wasteful Scientist," written by a Ga Tech M.E./Biology Prof who had 3 projects listed in Senator Jeff Flake's latest list of 20 puzzling govt funded studies. These things can be yanked out of context.
Posted by Virtual on 07/01/16 at 01:46 AM
PEA is a standard perfume and flavoring ingredient. So actually, it's OK for down the gullet and on the skin - at least in a diluted form.
Posted by TheCannyScot in Atlanta, GA on 07/03/16 at 10:18 AM
@Patty said "Apparently eels react in a particular and observable way when exposed to alcohol."

That's true. The become louder and more uninhibited, leading eventually to slurring, staggering and passing out. They are also known to be a cheap drunk, getting black-out drunk on just 2 drinks.
Posted by GFinKS on 07/05/16 at 03:08 PM
But at least you can get one to come home with you at closing time.
Posted by Patty in Ohio, USA on 07/06/16 at 10:58 AM
But the real question is why the government (or anybody else) would be interested in the reactions of eels to alcohol. Looking for leaky moonshiners? Or maybe they're after those "lost troves" of Prohibition booze?
Posted by Dan on 07/10/16 at 04:44 PM
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