Another day in the life of a field biologist

Well, another blog about science! I know you are all on pins and needles just waiting to read about all the science Bethany and I have been up to this week.

First, all field work starts with plenty of food.

I over packed just a little.

Bethany and I took o
ff for the Columbia River last Tuesday. Our first stop was a salmon hatchery. Hmmm....getting ahead of myself a little here. Let's start at the very beginning, a very good place to start (five points to the first person to leave a comment with the name of the song that line is from*).

This is the hatchery:

Bethany studies Coho salmon (those are the hatchery-raised Coho below). I have a very limited understanding of fish in general. Shocking, I know, for a grad student in a Fisheries Program. As some of you may know, practically every salmon species is on the Endangered Species Act list. There are many threats to the survival of these species. Logging, pollution, dams, the list goes on and on. Essentially, you name it, we do it and it destroys their habitat.

Bethany's thesis research is largely funded by a Power Company. One of the big issues in salmon research is that we humans have spent a lot of time and effort building dams and trying to control the flow and movement of rivers. While this has a whole laundry list of negative impacts on the environment (not to mention that rivers are wily little suckers and still do as they please causing floods and wreaking havoc despite our best efforts), one of impacts for salmon is that it literally impacts their ability to migrate upstream to spawn, changes water temperatures to lethal levels, among others.

So basically it boils down to the fact that power companies build dams, it alters the environment, the fish die, and since they are on the Endangered Species list the power companies must mitigate for all the death and destruction they cause.
In steps science! It turns out that they best way to save a species is to find out about their life history and what types of habitat they need to survive on their own.

Bethany essentially studies part of the Coho salmon life history. She wants to learn how must time they are spending in wetland habitats and how much they grow while they are there. I am probably butchering terribly what it is that she does, so let's just move along shall we? Oh good. I'm glad you agree.

So, off to the hatchery we went. Hatcheries supplement wild populations here in the northwest. They do that to make sure there is enough for sports fisherman, commercial fisherman, and the like. This is a whole other post entirely for another time.
The hatchery has a trap set up on the Columbia to capture and count both wild and hatchery salmon as they come down the river. They save all the Coho salmon they catch for Bethany to take scales (she determines growth from these, much like the rings on a tree) and to tag it in hopes of finding them again. Don't worry she puts them to sleep with some fishy anesthesia before she does this. That's them getting very sleepy in the white bin in the photo below and Bethany taking scales in the photo below that.

Side note: Can you believe that those little fishies above will grow into this:

Salmon have a very interesting life history and if you are interested you should read about it here on the NOAA site or here on the FWS site. End side note.

Wednesday through Friday were spent out in the marshlands of the Columbia River. Bethany and Chris (another lab-mate) work at a site similar to mine in that it is a breached levee, freshwater, tidally influenced marsh. We spent those three days setting up nets at different sites trying to capture fish as the tide flowed out of the marsh. The nets are kind of cool in that they completely cover the channel but funnel the marsh down into a little bag of net that we can pull out from time to time without having to deal with the entire net every time. Which is good, cause that sucker is heavy!

Once we get the fish out of the net Bethany takes scales from these little guys, marks, weighs, measures, and tags them. Then we release them back out into the marsh.
From all of this data Bethany hopes to determine how much time these Coho fry are spending in these habitats and how much importance they have in supporting the growth of these fish. This information can be used to make management and recovery plans that work the best for Coho.

Yes, it was cold and that is why Bethany is all bundled up in the picture below where she is tagging the fish by injecting some fluorescent dye beneath their skin.

It has been a really great week. I always appreciate spending time out in the field on others peoples projects. Basically, I really like being what we lovingly call in the biz "a field bitch." I just do what I'm told. No worrying about whether or not I am completely messing up my thesis research.

We did lots of other fun things too this week out here on the coast, but that is a post for another day my friends. I also have a rather long rant to post as well thanks to hatchery manager Mike.

*Have you ever seen "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" where Drew Carey was the Host? it was an improv show where Carey assigned points randomly because they didn't really mean anything. Yeah. My point system is sort of like that too. Maybe the system will change at some point and there will be an annual winner or something that gets some cookies in the mail.


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