Saturday, June 8, 2013
100 kids in 7 days
I have been lucky enough to take more than 100 kids snorkeling on rivers on 3 of the last 7 days. It is fun work, but exhausting when done right. I enjoyed the sunny morning and clear water of our last trip. It was the last group of 25 and we just found about a dozen elvers making their way back upstream to find a clean gravel/cobble bar home where they will mature for the next 25 years or so. It is so rewarding to see kids watch this amazing feat, to watch kids become connected to our rivers right before my eyes. The school’s principal was also out with this 5th grade class, and she gave an approving nod. We were reaching curricular outcomes. Kids were learning while they explored their river. I rolled onto my back and enjoyed the rush of water, the sun, the laughter of students. Life was good, and I was satisfied. A commotion downstream changed all that. A half dozen students gathered around a section of riffle and yelled “eel!” I rolled over and snorkeled to them to find a large, 3 foot long orange colored lamprey, firmly attached to a rock. I have never seen a lamprey in the wild before. Just as I thought today couldn’t get any better, I see a life list fish. Some people collect bird life lists. I collect fish, and this was quite the find. I have been hoping to see a lamprey for 20 years. I have been intently searching for 5. Sea lamprey have a reputation of being an invasive parasite that is killing off the great lakes fish populations, which they are, but here in Maryland they are native, and declining in number. We think. They really haven’t been all that well studied, and historic population data is scarce. They are a very primitive fish. They even predate sharks. They are so primitive, jaws evolved after them so they are called jawless fish. Instead, they have a sucker disc lined with sharp raspy teeth which allows them to latch onto the sides of larger fish and suck body fluids to the point of death. While they appear to be a parasite, they are actually a predatory fish since parasites don’t typically kill their hosts. They spend their lives at sea and migrate into our rivers and streams to spawn, and like most migratory fish, they are in trouble. Freshwaters Illustrated (www.freshwatersillustrated.org) produced a series of excellent videos on Pacific lamprey. While this is a different species the story of decline is similar. The lamprey was pretty beat up from its long journey and it was nearing the end of its life. We took lots of pictures and some video and showed the fish to all the kids. In that instant these students became strongly attached to their river and this fish. The lamprey was the galvanizing agent. As amazing as this fish is, they seem to be forgotten in the east. I hope we can learn how east coast lamprey are faring, and take action before no one remembers these primitive wonders.