Science in the Kitchen…Collecting Lampreys in the Hay River, Northwest Territories

Museum researchers Claude Renaud and Noel Alfonso are in the Northwest Territories, collecting lampreys with Russian colleague Alexander Naseka. After some initial challenges, they finally hit the jackpot along the Hay River and later turn their hotel kitchen into a laboratory.

We left Fort Simpson on June 28 and reached our next destination, Hay River, after driving more than 420 km over five hours. Along the route, we took a ferry across the Liard River. The evening was spent patching waders, mending torn dipnets and planning our sampling for the following day.

Two men standing by edge of ferry with river in background.

Noel Alfonso (left) and Alexander Naseka on the ferry across the Liard River. Image: Claude Renaud © Canadian Museum of Nature

Our day began with a visit to the Hay River Dene Band / Katlodeeche First Nation across the Hay River and then we stopped by the Fisheries and Oceans Office on Vale Island. To our astonishment, the Fisheries and Oceans representative told us that our scientific fishing permit was incomplete! The problem occurred either at one of the two places where we introduced ourselves in Fort Simpson or earlier that morning at the Hay River Dene Band / Katlodeeche First Nation.

At each of these places our permits were photocopied for their records, but somewhere along the line the photocopying was done only one-sided rather than two-sided and our original copy was kept, leaving us with an incomplete permit. This could have been a minor catastrophe, but the Fisheries and Oceans representative simply got the Yellowknife office to fax us a complete copy. Within 10 or 15 minutes, we were on our way. Whew!

We decided to start electrofishing on the eastern side of Vale Island, near the mouth of the Hay River. Since lamprey larvae gradually drift with the current over the course of their multi-year life, we expected the largest ones to be present at the river’s mouth.
We weren’t disappointed. Of the 47 collected that day, the largest was 186.5 mm long.

Two men fish for lampreys while standing in a river near the riverbank.

Claude Renaud (left) and Alexander Naseka have all the necessary electrofishing gear as they collect lamprey larvae near the mouth of the Hay River. Image: Noel Alfonso © Canadian Museum of Nature

The lamprey larvae are collected with a dipnet and placed in a bucket containing river water. After collecting a day’s worth of specimens, we process them in our hotel room. This means placing them in a lethal concentration of anaesthetic, then counting them, measuring them and taking tissue samples for analyses of DNA and gene expression. We select others for morphological study and still others for histological study (i.e. microscopic study of their tissues). Our kitchen becomes our laboratory.

Lab tools are laid out on a kitchen counter, as one man has his hand in an aquarium and another dissects lampreys.

Alexander Naseka (left) and Claude Renaud processing the day’s catch in their kitchen turned laboratory. Image: Noel Alfonso © Canadian Museum of Nature

The following day, we collected 31 lamprey larvae at the same site. The water is very turbid and the dominant plant along the shoreline is horsetail (Equisetum sp.). In just two days, we collected our allowable catch of lampreys at a single spot. There was a light breeze and the insects were not bothering us. What a contrast with the Martin River, where the collecting was a challenge, the heat was intense and the insects were extremely irritating.

The rest of the afternoon was spent washing and drying our clothes at a laundromat−a necessary exercise after more than 10 days in the field!

Our fieldwork is almost over. The next and final destination will be the Slave River, at Fort Smith, very near the border of the Northwest Territories and Alberta.

Read previous blogs about this fieldwork:

This entry was posted in Animals, Fieldwork, Research, Water and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Science in the Kitchen…Collecting Lampreys in the Hay River, Northwest Territories

  1. Pingback: Mission Accomplished for Lamprey Field Team in Northwest Territories | Canadian Museum of Nature – Blog

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