Mission Accomplished for Lamprey Field Team in Northwest Territories

Museum researchers Claude Renaud and Noel Alfonso, along with Russian colleague Alexander Naseka, are wrapping up their fieldwork to collect lampreys in the Northwest Territories. In this final blog, they finally succeed in reaching catching their quota and prepare for the journey home.

We left Hay River on July 1 and drove the roughly 300 km to Fort Smith, which is along the Slave River at the border with Alberta.

We entered town in the middle of the Canada Day Parade and spent the rest of the afternoon scoping potential places to sample. The following day we targeted one of these locations, the boat launch, and began electrofishing along a 200-metre stretch upstream…but not a single lamprey larva emerged from the mucky bottom.

Two men holding nets and fishing as they stand in river.

Claude Renaud (left) and Alexander Naseka electrofishing in the Slave River at the boat launch in Fort Smith. Claude Renaud © Canadian Museum of Nature

We then surveyed a 200-metre section downstream of the boat launch and were rewarded with 13 larvae. No other fishes were seen; the water level was high and very murky.

The boat launch lies below the impressive Rapids of the Drowned (Class VI rapids) and we occasionally see White Pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) flying past us. After supper, we located the exact area where spawning individuals of Arctic Lamprey (Lethenteron camtschaticum) were collected in the late 1960s. This is the water intake reservoir of the water treatment plant that opened in 1959 but is no longer used.

Due to the high water level, we saw no possible access to this part of the river, which is situated above the rapids. Everybody we spoke to in the town confirmed that the water level was very high and that the beach at the boat launch, which is usually about 4 metres wide, had completely disappeared.

Two men stand on riverbank looking at a set of rapids.

Alexander Naseka (left) and Noel Alfonso in front of the Rapids of the Drowned. Claude Renaud © Canadian Museum of Nature

At breakfast the following day, we learned from a retired employee with the NWT Department of Natural Resources of an access to the river at the edge of town. It’s at a place called Bell Rock, about 10 km downriver. We then dropped by the Parks Canada office, across from our hotel and met Field Unit Superintendent Rob Kent, with whom I went to Graduate School at the University of Ottawa in the 1980s. It’s a small world!

He tells us that the White Pelicans feed extensively on Arctic Lamprey in the Rapids of the Drowned. We try to sample downstream of the boat launch, at the same spot as we did yesterday, but only come up with a single lamprey larva. They are extremely fast. We probably miss about 10 of them. Have they become faster in the last 24 hours or is it only the slow ones that we caught the previous day?

A woman walking her dog asks us what we are doing and we show her the lamprey. She says that local people call these water snakes.

In the afternoon, we try our luck at the Bell Rock location. The area we sample is called a snye, a long channel between the riverbank and an island in the middle of the river. The mosquitoes are fierce and the temperature is sweltering, but our efforts are rewarded with 18 lamprey larvae.

Two men holding nets and standing in river.

Claude Renaud (left) and Alexander Naseka electrofishing in the snye of the Slave River at Bell Rock. Image: Noel Alfonso © Canadian Museum of Nature

The vegetation along the riverbank is mostly willows and horsetail. After this success, we decided to sample at the same spot the following day, July 4. It was very windy and overcast. This meant no biting insects.

We collected 46 lamprey larvae and let go another 19, having reached our quota as stipulated on our Scientific Fishing Permit.

In the end, we attained the goal that we had set for ourselves: to collect about 75 lampreys in each of three rivers (the Martin, the Hay and the Slave) and we did this three days ahead of schedule.

The next morning, we left Fort Smith and reached Yellowknife, a distance of about 750 km, in the early evening. Along the way, we took photographs of two young black bears (Ursus americanus) as well as some Sandhill Cranes (Grus canadensis).

A black bear running in front of some trees.

A young black bear (Ursus americanus ) spotted on the side of the highway between Fort Smith and Hay River. Image: Claude Renaud © Canadian Museum of Nature

After supper, we packed our scientific material, including all of our lamprey specimens. On the day before we left Yellowknife, we sent two parcels of scientific equipment by courier back to the Canadian Museum of Nature’s research facility in Gatineau, Quebec.

This is where the morphological study on the collected specimens will be conducted. Some specimens will also be sent to colleagues at the University of Manitoba and the Université du Québec à Rimouski in order that they may conduct the molecular, gene expression and histological parts of the project.

After all was packed, the three members of our field expedition−Noel Alfonso, Alexander Naseka and myself−stopped by the offices of the local newspaper, The Yellowknifer, for an interview about the project with Mike Bryant, the Assignment Editor.

The fieldwork part of the study is now completed … but the real work of discovery is just beginning.

Read previous blogs about this fieldwork:

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

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