STORIES THE VIEW UPSTREAM By: Keith 'Catfish' Sutton 8 Stories of Fish Doing the Darndest Things Fish often do the darndest things – if you don't believe it, ask a fisheries biologist Tags, like the ones on this bluefin tuna, help biologists learn amazing information about the movements of fish. (Keith Sutton photo) While working with our finny friends – tagging and tracking them – these dedicated professionals often have amazing encounters and discover fascinating facts. Check out these examples. Tough Trout A 32-inch bull trout astonished biologists by surviving a trip through the turbines at Libby Dam in northwestern Montana. The fish, tagged after spawning in a stream in British Columbia, was tracked making the 100-mile trip down to Libby Dam. After negotiating the turbines, it went downstream another 40 miles and over the spectacular but choppy Kootenai Falls (one of the largest free-flowing waterfalls in the Pacific Northwest). It wound up in Obrien Creek where it spawned the next year. Apparently this trout was unshaken by its adventure the previous year. Falls Jumper Another bull trout was radio tagged after spawning in Quartz Creek, a tributary of the Kootenai River above Kootenai Falls. Trackers lost the fish for a short time, then it suddenly reappeared below Kootenai Falls. The next autumn the same bull trout was back in Quartz Creek. No one believed a trout could make such a challenging round trip until this hardy bull trout was tracked doing it. Astounding Traveler In 2005, biologist Doug Marsh inserted an electronic device the size of a grain of rice into a juvenile steelhead trout, released the fish into the Columbia River in Washington and watched the signal disappear as the fish swam away. Ornithologist Dale Whaitiri recovered the monitoring tag in April 2007 from the stomach of a baby seabird (a sooty shearwater) captured near New Zealand, 7,700 miles across the Pacific Ocean! How did Whaitiri happen to find the tag? New Zealand’s native Maori people eat the fat shearwater chicks but give the stomachs to Whaitiri who monitors the birds’ diets. Scientists could only speculate, however, how the tag traveled all those miles. Steelheads migrate north not south, so it’s believed an adult shearwater must have eaten the steelhead on the Columbia, carried the indigestible glass tag in its belly for two years, then regurgitated the device into the baby shearwater’s maw when feeding it. Amazingly, of the world’s millions of shearwaters, Whaitiri examined the belly of this particular bird. The Odds Must Be Incredible On April 14, 1983, Wyoming Game and Fish Department fisheries biologist Bill Wengert helped stock 11,656 young lake trout in southwest Wyoming’s Flaming Gorge Reservoir. While ice fishing in 2007, he caught one of those same trout, a 23-inch, 2-1/2-pound fish he recognized because its right pelvic fin had been clipped for identification. Almost a quarter century passed from the time Wengert helped stock the fish until he caught it again. “I may have actually clipped the fins on this very fish, and I know I was driving the barge when the fish were stocked nearly 25 years ago,” Wengert said. He added that the 26-year-old trout will give fishery biologists “an opportunity to learn more about fish genetics, age and growth of lake trout.” Marathon Swimmer Had Whiskers Trout aren’t the only species with interesting tales to tell. In another story from Wyoming, we learn that agency biologists tagged a 1-pound channel catfish in June 2007 just below the Kendrick Diversion Dam east of Sheridan. The same fish, weighing 3 pounds, was caught by Dr. Brian Luepke in mid-April while fishing the Yellowstone River in Montana. That astounding journey spanned 415 miles, the longest documented fish movement in Wyoming fish-tagging history. The fish likely traveled down the Powder River into Montana and then turned upstream in the Yellowstone. But before the fish reached the spot where it was caught, it had to make a difficult passage around four irrigation diversions. “The distance this catfish traveled shows how important it is to have connected river systems where fish can move and complete their life cycle,” said Wyoming fisheries supervisor Paul Mavrakis. “Ocean-run salmon are the most famous example of fish traveling long distances, but many fish in Wyoming also need to be able to travel long distances for spawning, overwinter habitat and to escape adverse conditions like a prolonged drought.” Old Sturgeon Another fish with whiskers swam free for more than two decades between the time it was tagged and recaptured. Fisheries biologists with the Missouri Department of Conservation have been tagging shovelnose sturgeon in the Missouri and Mississippi rivers for decades to learn more about these prehistoric fish. This long-term effort was rewarded in late 2002 when biologists recaptured a sturgeon tagged by one of their predecessors an incredible 24 years earlier. That 4-pound fish turned up in a net in the Missouri River near Jefferson City, 119 miles from the original tagging site at St Louis. Tagged Tuna Al Anderson, a Rhode Island charter boat captain, participates in the NOAA Fisheries Cooperative Tagging Program, which provides free tags to fishermen so they can contribute to our scientific understanding of fish. One fish he tagged, a bluefin tuna, was at liberty 5,855 days (16 years) before its recapture. That bluefin weighed a mere 14 pounds when Anderson caught and tagged it in the Mudhole near Block Island in 1997. When a Nova Scotia fisherman recaptured it in 2013, it weighed more than 1,200 pounds. That’s an astounding weight gain of approximately 75 pounds per year! Tags show bluefins tuna travel widely and fast. Anderson once recaptured a bluefin off Rhode Island that had been tagged 10 days earlier near New Orleans. In that brief time the fish traveled at least 1,600 miles. Other bluefins Anderson tagged have been recaptured off the coasts of Turkey and France. Fast Traveler A tagged great white shark became the quickest recorded oceanic traveler after it swam from South Africa to Australia and back in under a year. The female shark was tagged with a data transmitter off South Africa in November 2003. The unit detached automatically and was recovered off western Australia four months later, but that wasn’t the end of the story. In August 2004, five months after the transmitter bobbed to the surface, project research scientists spotted the shark – identifiable by a pattern of notches in its dorsal fin – back in its old haunt off South Africa. It had completed a round trip of some 12,500 miles in just nine months!