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New Oregon Zoo Exhibit Showcases Pacific Lamprey Conservation

By Sean Connolly, Danielle Costantini, Amanda Smith, Johnna Roy


Pacific lamprey and other native Pacific Northwest fish in their new Oregon Zoo exhibit. Credit: Oregon Zoo

  • The Oregon Zoo welcomed five new special guests on July 11, 2019, when Pacific Lamprey debuted as the centerpiece of an innovative new educational exhibit. These ancient fish are at the heart of a multi-year collaborative effort between the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (Service), the Zoo, the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission (CRITFC), and numerous Pacific Northwest tribes to bring Pacific Lamprey and their stories to the Zoo’s 1.7 million annual visitors. 

  • Pacific lamprey are among the oldest--and most unique--fish on the planet. Credit: Oregon Zoo

  • A celebratory event to welcome the lamprey to their new home was attended by leadership and key staff from the Zoo, the Service and CRITFC, which represents the Nez Perce Tribe, the Confederated Tribes of Umatilla Indians, the Yakama Nation, and the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs. Speeches by Don Moore, Director of the Oregon Zoo, and Roy Elicker, Assistant Regional Director of the Service’s Pacific Region Fish and Aquatic Conservation Program, were followed by a speech and ceremonial blessing by Emerson Squimphen, a Warm Springs tribal elder. 


    Emerson Squimphen, a Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs elder, at the July 11, 2019 celebratory event. Credit: Christina Wang/USFWS

    “The Service is grateful to be able to help support the development of this exhibit,” said Roy Elicker. “It is a model for collaborative partnering between the Zoo, Fish and Wildlife Service, the CRITFC tribes, and the Grand Ronde, Cow Creek, Siletz, and Coquille Tribes.”


    Roy Elicker, Assistant Regional Director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Pacific Region Fish and Aquatic Conservation Program. Credit: Michael Durham/Oregon Zoo

    The Zoo's Executive Director Don Moore remarked, "It is ... exciting to have shared the development of this exhibit with tribal nations of the region, the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This exhibit has provided an opportunity to build relationships.”

  • Don Moore, Exective Director of the Oregon Zoo. Credit: Johnna Roy/USFWS

    With the arrival of adult lamprey in the new Zoo exhibit, visitors can meet their ancient neighbor as they learn about a fish whose prehistoric past predates dinosaurs and whose future depends on humans. The exhibit interprets Pacific Lamprey life history, evolutionary significance, range, conservation status, threats and the collaborative conservation efforts by federal and state agencies, tribes, and local organizations. 


  • Lamprey ancestors have been on the planet longer than dinosaurs. Image Credit: Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission.

    The second phase of the exhibit is still in preparation. This Cultural Connections portion is being co-designed by numerous tribes and the Zoo and will be revealed at the grand opening event on World Rivers Day, September 29, 2019. 


  • Tribal Pacific Lamprey harvest at Willamette Falls near Oregon City, Oregon. Lamprey are culturally important to area tribes, several of which consider lamprey a 'First Fish.' Credit: Michael Durham/Oregon Zoo.

    Additional partners helped plan the exhibit. The High Desert Museum, located in Bend, OR, provided valuable technical assistance based off of their pioneering Pacific Lamprey exhibit. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, which manages populations of 10 native lamprey species across the state, also provided information for the display. 


  • The Zoo's Pacific Lamprey share the 500 gallon exhibit tank with other species including Chinook salmon and Warner sucker. Credit: Oregon Zoo.

    The exhibit represents an important milestone for longstanding advocates of Pacific Lamprey conservation, particularly local tribes and government agencies. The species plays an important ecological and cultural role in the Pacific Northwest and Northern California.  


  • Exhibit visitors can learn about the current threats to Pacific lamprey, conservation actions being taken, and what they can do to help. Credit: Christina Wang/USFWS

    This collaborative effort also reflects ongoing efforts by Pacific Lamprey Conservation Initiative partners and long-standing efforts by the tribes to raise public awareness of the conservation challenges and opportunities associated with this relatively unknown native fish.


  • An exhibit display showasing Pacific lamprey's unique physical features and life history. Credit: Oregon Zoo.

    Pacific Lamprey have lived through several mass extinction events, but now they are now facing pressures from urbanization caused by humans. For more than six decades, an impressive array of conservation partners, currently totaling 176, have been working actively to recover the species.

    One of five Pacific lamprey in the exhibit's 500 gallon tank. Credit: Michael Durham/Oregon Zoo.

    The Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation are loaning the Zoo lamprey from their Pacific Lamprey Research and Restoration Project. The Program’s team collects lamprey at area dams, holds them until they’re ready to spawn, and then reintroduces them into upper Columbia River and the Snake River tributaries to rebuild populations. The exhibit’s lamprey will also be released back into the wild to complete their lifecycle, and will be replaced with new fish.  


  • A Pacific Lamprey being released into the wild. Several Columbia Basin tribes have translocation and restoration programs designed to reintroduce lamprey into parts of their original range. Credit: Freshwaters Illustrated

    The exhibit’s lamprey will be ambassadors with a key outreach role helping to educate and engage visitors that otherwise might never see Pacific lamprey in the wild. In addition, the Zoo, Service, and tribal partners are developing education kits for use at the Zoo and in local communities to expand upon the exhibit's key messages of lamprey conservation. This educational curriculum will include a call to action that conserving and restoring lamprey is a team effort, and everyone, no matter how young or old, can help.


  • The Pacific Lamprey exhibit gives visitors ideas on how to help conserve and restore lamprey populations. Credit: Oregon Zoo.

    Roy Elicker's sentiments at the July 11th event reflect those of the lamprey conservation community: “We all care deeply about this ancient species, our neighbor, and our elder. This exhibit will be integral in reaching many, many people to tell the lamprey’s amazing story and to build support for their conservation. It represents a huge step toward achieving our common goal of recovering Pacific Lamprey for future generations.” 


  • Future generations of conservationists learning about Pacific Lamprey. Credit: Danielle Costantini/USFWS

Last Updated: September 27, 2019
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