Tuesday, September 7, 2010

My Time with the Lovely Lamprey

Working with the US Fish and Wildlife service has been one of the best experiences of my life thus far. In 21 years of existence I cannot say that I enjoyed working as much as I did here. I looked forward to every day and what it could possibly entail. Most days included trekking through dense woods with praying mantis probes for arms while simultaneously getting bitten by numerous amounts of mosquitos. Sweating through entire shirts was inevitable and wiping dirt off my face or picking tree parts out of my hair was pointless. But I would not have wanted it any other way. I got to see things that most people will never see in their lives. Gorgeous 100 ft. waterfalls that are in the middle of nowhere, breathtaking valleys six miles into a hike that you had to bushwhack to get to, bald eagles flying right over you, riding the white caps in the Columbia River Gorge and watching the sun come up, just for some examples. I felt lucky to have this opportunity every day and I could never replace the memories I have from this job. On top of all of that beauty I got to study one of the coolest, most interesting fish out there. Lamprey are so understudied and so misunderstood. I would feel honored if I were able to engage in future studies that help to create more public awareness about these creatures and help eradicate the negative connotation that is most commonly associated with them. This job has excited me into wanting my Master’s to focus on some aspect of lamprey and I can’t wait to do that.

Before being hired in May of 2009, I had never heard of lamprey. I’m not going to lie, at first I was a little bummed that I wasn’t going to be working with salmon or some other type of more “fish-like” fish. I grew up fishing and hiking so I had fallen in love with the image of what is more commonly linked to the word ‘fish’. But I immediately learned to love lamprey and my love has only grown over the last two summers. I worked with Pacific lamprey (Entosphenus tridentatus) and Western brook lamprey (Lampetra richardsoni). Pacifics are generally grayer in color with a lighter caudal ridge and a darker fin (a fade) while Western brooks are generally more olive colored with a dark caudal ridge and a clearer or speckled fin. The westerns also usually have a yellow stripe that runs from their anus to the tip of their caudal ridge. It amazes me that they are blind for the larger part of their life and have managed to exist since before dinosaurs were around. They live in the sediment in creeks and rivers during their ammoceote phase (5-7 years) filtering out nutrients from the water. Ammoceotes are the life stage that I mostly was working with but I would see the occasional transformer or adult. Pacifics are an anadromous fish. They transform into macropthalmia (macs) and out-migrate to the ocean where they feed off of the blood of other fishes. Western brook lamprey transform and stay in freshwater to spawn and die. These fish have been able to withstand and adjust to catastrophic world events that wiped out everything else and yet humans have presumably managed to make enough of an impact to cause a huge decline in the numbers of lamprey migrating back from the oceans to spawn. We have been around for a miniscule fraction of the time that lamprey have existed but have impacted them as though we were working to kill them off all along. There is a lot of good work being done to create better Pacific lamprey passage through dams and decrease mortalities of both out migrating macs and adults coming back to spawn but population counts have shown a steady decline in numbers, especially more recently. I am anxious to see what is done in the near future to improve their situation and hope to be involved in some way.

Lamprey have grabbed my heart and I am so interested and excited to study them more. I love my team (LAMPREY ROYAL!!) and thank you so much for teaching me and making this experience what it was. I have grown as a student and a person by being part of the STEP (Student Temporary Employment Program) and I have gained knowledge that could never be taught in a classroom.

Submitted by Michaela Satter

1 comment:

  1. Michaela - what a wonderful post! I hope your enthusiasm inspires other people to learn more about why lamprey are such cool critters. Nice job! :o)