I've been on the internet (or PheromoNet, as us lampreys call it) since early 2012, and recently decided to build a website to share my experience with everyone.
If you've been keeping up with me on Facebook and Twitter, you know I've led a pretty wild life!
First, I was born in a tributary of the Columbia River and lived in the mud and substrate as a larva (ammocoete) with all my siblings and cousins for five years. Then as a juvenile (macropthalmia) I grew eyes and teeth--that took between two to four months, and migrated to the Pacific Ocean. I became an adult there, and for another year fed in the great buffet that the deep blue sea has to offer. Then something called me back home. Members of my cohort--Louie, Lucinda, Leo, Lollipop, Lucy, and others--returned back to the rivers we grew in, using the PheromoNet as our guide.
Want to trace our journey? Join me and my fellow Pacific lamprey friends on our journey from the ocean to the freshwater and learn why Pacific lamprey are so important to the Pacific Northwest!
Phase I: From The Ocean to the River
I can only tell you a bit about our life in the ocean. While I was growing in the ocean, I traveled throughout the Pacific Rim, from the west coast of the U.S. to the east coast of Russia.
As parasites, we fed on lots of marine and anadromous fish including salmon, pollock, flatfish, and rockfish by attaching to their bodies and sucking on bodily fluids. Like every good parasite though, we never overstayed our welcome or caused mortal harm to our hosts.
Sometimes I attached to marine fish, not to eat but to hitchhike a ride to a new area. Like this lamprey who attached to a whale here. Some of our buddies were eaten by sharks, sea lions, and other big marine mammals. I guess everyone has to eat.
After spending a few years in the ocean with my friends, and attaching myself to a few new friends like Sammie the Salmon, we felt it was time to return to the rivers and streams.
Phase I of my journey shows the trials and tribulations Pacific lamprey go through to enjoy the rest of our lives in the river.
battled aquatic invasive species and escaped from dangerous predators,
climbed over waterfalls and fish passage barriers,
gasped for breath in polluted water,
and struggled through dewatered areas!
One of our biggest accomplishments was getting over the Bonneville Dam! Some of us didn't make it. Latcher was eaten by a sea lion. Other lamprey were preyed upon by salmon and steelhead who love lamprey since we're slower and fattier.
As we approached the giant structure spanning the wide Columbia River, we discovered that some helpful humans constructed a Lamprey Passage System! The tops of these ladders had rounded edges so that we would be able to climb over them with ease! Did you know they count fish at Bonneville Dam?
Phase II: Spawning and Larval Growth
After the Bonneville Dam, something kept pulling us forward. We knew we kept in touch through our senses of smell and the PheromoNet, but these pheromonal cues were so much stronger! Lucinda followed these cues up the White Salmon River in Washington, then Leonardo went up the Deschutes River in Oregon.
We crossed the Dalles Dam, and then a walleye ate Lulu! They aren't native to the Northwest, and while they're popular with anglers, they prey upon lamprey and other native fish. Then we ran into another challenge: passing John Day Dam is hard for lamprey, and Louie didn't make it!
Lucy and I are the only ones left, and we decided to rest in the John Day River. While there, we met other Pacific lamprey anxious to keep going upriver! They were much smaller than us and explained they'd already been in the river for a year, living off the fat they stored from the ocean.
Two lamprey I met are Asum (ah-SOOM) and He'esu (ha-SOO); their cool names mean "eel" in Yakima and Nez Perce Sahaptin dialects!
They had already spent some time in the river, and after a year in freshwater, they told me they kept smelling stronger and stronger pheromones upstream and had an urge to move and spawn.
As they moved further upstream, He'esu and Asum reported that the strong pheromones were coming from other spawning males and ammocoetes in the substrate. These ammocoete pheromones were riling Asum up, and he swam all the way to Ahtanum Creek in the Yakama Basin. He saw a lovely lady lamprey and went chasing out after her, but where did He'esu go?
Asum posted a personal ad/missed connection on the PheromoNet.
He got a response the next day and ended up meeting Leslie, and the two went upriver to spawn! Here's a picture of Leslie, Asum's lady lamprey love:
I hadn't heard from He'esu so I sent out messsages on the PheromoNet and found shocking news! Here's what happened:
He'esu ended up at John Day Dam.
The humans were curious too, and then, SPLASH, they got 'im!
Don't worry, He'esu ended up safe and sound in a Nez Perce tribal lamprey facility. He's going to be kept safe over winter and released in the spring to spawn! As for Leslie and Asum, you can click here to see what they've been up to. I'll be following them upstream in one year.
It spooked me so much, I decided to move to the Umatilla River Basin. There's some great habitat here, I can smell lamprey ammocoetes, so I'm going to stay here for the winter!
Phase III: Transformers to the Ocean
As my eggs mature and I wait for my last burst of energy to finish my journey, ammocoetes, macropthalmia (juvenile lamprey) and adults are active throughout the Columbia River basin and up and down the West Coast.
As an ammocoete I 'transformed' into macropthalmia. Once blind, I developed eyes. The hood covering my mouth disappeared as lip-like papillae formed and teeth emerged. After years of burrowing in the river bottom I began spending more time out of the sediment, and practiced swimming downstream. My metamorphosis from ammocoete to macropthalmia took between two to four months.
Macropthalmia in West Coast rivers and streams are beginning their journey, as I once did, from their natal (birthplace) waterways to the ocean.
Just as I prepare for my final journey upriver, macropthalmia are beginning to outmigrate in spring river flows. Word's coming through the PheromoNet that three teams of juveniles are forming in different river systems in Idaho, Washington, and Oregon.
They call themselves "Team Clearwater", "Team Yakima", and "Team Umatilla".
Like my journey last year, they'll face lots of obstacles and dangers awaiting them downstream: birds and fish that like to eat lamprey, passing over or through dams, and navigating slow-moving waters and reservoirs. But these 'teenagers' also have to undergo one more big transformation: preparing their bodies for living in the salty waters of the estuaries and the Pacific Ocean.
There are other challenges the lamprey teams may have to overcome along the way: dewatering, poor water quality, even navigating culverts and tidegates that block fish. Migrating juvenile lamprey need healthy aquatic habitats just like adults and larval fish!
The teams may meet biologists and tribal members along the way who are working to protect and restore lamprey. Humans can help – or hinder—a team's progress towards the ocean. What will happen? Which team will make it first, if any of them make it at all?
How can you help Team Clearwater, Team Umatilla, and Team Yakima reach their goal?
Follow weekly progress reports here, and get regular updates on my Facebook, and Twitter.
Watch for team – and participate in—online challenges. Human help may make the teams move faster…or smarter!
Learn more about Pacific lamprey, and spread the word.