Sea lampreys feed on whales

This is a sea lamprey video.

From the BBC:

Monday, 3 January 2011

Blood-sucking fish feed on whales

By Ella Davies
Earth News reporter

Blood-sucking sea lampreys feed on prey as big as minke whales, according to new research.

Scientists studying whales in Canada have challenged previous theories that lampreys attach to whales purely to “hitch a ride”.

Photographs show bloody lesions after lampreys detached from whale hosts, indicating feeding.

Sea lampreys are parasitic fish that feed on others’ blood, attaching to the skin with a suction-cup like mouth.

Sea lampreys (Petromyzon marinus) are known to feed on a wide variety of fish using a funnel-like mouth filled with teeth and a razor-like tongue.

In the past lamprey teeth-marks have been identified on whale and porpoise bodies.

Sea lampreys have also been photographed attached to Pacific humpback and North Atlantic right whales.

Based on these rare glimpses, certain scientists theorised that sea lampreys feed on cetaceans, but it was not possible from this evidence to say conclusively that they were drawing blood.

Others in the scientific community argued that P. marinus could merely be using cetaceans for transport, biting into their flesh in order to travel long distances.

However, during studies in the St Lawrence estuary, where the Great Lakes enter the Atlantic Ocean in eastern Canada, researchers resolved the debate.

The long-term study of minke whales in the area provided the first ongoing observations of sea lamprey and whale interaction.

Their findings were published in the Journal of Fish Biology. …


They are sometimes called ‘lamprey eels’ because adults are similarly long and lack scales

Sea lampreys secrete an anticoagulant from their mouths to stop prey’s blood from clotting

Humpback whale in the North Sea: here.

Ireland: A whale watching trip with Martin Colfer on the Rebecca C from Dunmore East 9th January produces the first inshore humpback whale sighting of 2011.

Whale evolution: here.

Antarctic minke whales are mating with Arctic cousins, DNA shows: here.

Lampreys give clues to evolution of immune system: here.

A repellant for sea lampreys could be the key to better controlling one of the most destructive invasive species in the Great Lakes, says a Michigan State University researcher: here.

‘Vampire’ sea lampreys heat up for sex: here.

Field study suggests that sex determination in sea lamprey is directly influenced by larval growth rate: here.

8 thoughts on “Sea lampreys feed on whales

  1. US-Japan discussed ‘action’ against anti-whalers

    Originally published: January 3, 2011 3:44 AM

    Updated: January 3, 2011 4:32 AM

    By The Associated Press JAY ALABASTER (Associated Press)

    TOKYO – (AP) — Japanese and American officials discussed taking action to weaken a prominent anti-whaling group, with Tokyo insisting that Sea Shepherd’s confrontations on the high seas actually hurt efforts to reduce whaling, U.S. diplomatic cables show.

    The U.S. representative to the International Whaling Commission, Monica Medina, discussed revoking the U.S.-based conservation group’s tax exempt status during a meeting with senior officials from the Fisheries Agency of Japan in November 2009, according to the documents released by WikiLeaks on Monday.

    Sea Shepherd Conservation Society’s yearly protest campaigns — which chase Japan’s whaling fleet in boats trying to disrupt the hunt by fouling fishing lines and throwing rancid butter at whalers — have drawn high-profile donors and volunteers, and spawned the popular Animal Planet series “Whale Wars.” In Japan, the harrassment is seen by some as foreign interferance in national affairs, making politicians wary of getting involved.

    Action against Sea Shepherd would be a “major element” in achieving success at international negotiations on the number of whales killed each year, the cables cite the director general of Japan’s fisheries agency, Katsuhiro Machida, as saying.

    Referring to Sea Shepherd, Medina said “she believes the USG (U.S. government) can demonstrate the group does not deserve tax exempt status based on their aggressive and harmful actions,” according the cables.

    Paul Watson, founder of Sea Shepherd, said Japan has previously pressured foreign governments to take action against the group, such as revoking the registration of its ships. He said the organization had last been audited about two years ago, which is before the exchanges detailed in the cables.

    “We have had our tax status since 1981, and we have done nothing different since then to cause the IRS (Internal Revenue Service) to change that,” he told The Associated Press by telephone from his ship.

    The diplomatic cables, posted on WikiLeaks’ secret-sharing website early Monday but dated Jan. 1, show Japanese officials repeatedly told U.S. counterparts the group’s actions were making whaling a political issue and hurting any chance of a compromise on the numbers of whales killed each year.

    Sea Shepherd vessels are currently chasing Japan’s whaling fleet in the Antarctic Ocean in the hopes of interrupting its hunt, which kills up to 1,000 whales annually and typically lasts from December to February.

    Japan hunts whales under the research exemption to a 1986 worldwide ban on commercial hunts. Critics say there is no reason to kill the animals, and the research program amounts to commercial whaling in disguise because surplus meat from the hunt is sold domestically.

    Protest ships harass the whaling fleet, and clashes between the sides often take place. On Saturday, Watson said that whalers had shot water cannons at anti-whaling activists nearby.

    Last January, a Sea Shepherd boat was sunk after its bow was sheared off in a collision with a whaling vessel and a New Zealand protestor was later arrested after he boarded a Japanese whaling ship. He was taken to Tokyo and later deported.

    The cables are dated before an International Whaling Commission meeting last year that was seen as a major chance to end a decades long stalemate. They show the U.S. worked with Japan in late 2009 to reach a deal on the issue, calling it an “irritant” in international relations.

    The meeting ended without a major agreement.

    “Action on the SSCS (Sea Shepherd Conservation Society) would be a major element for Japan in the success of the overall negotiations,” a Japanese official said, according to one cable.

    Watson said Monday that his group was against anything less than a complete stop to Japan’s whaling program in Antarctica. The activists hope to block whaling activities for the Japanese fleet so it incurs deep financial losses.

    “I don’t think a solution is going to come through politics, it’s going to come through economics,” Watson told The Associated Press by telephone from his ship while pursuing the Japanese fleet.

    Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.


  2. NW tribes drive effort to save primitive fish

    August 2, 2011 By JEFF BARNARD , Associated Press

    (AP) — As long as American Indians have lived in the Pacific Northwest, they have looked to a jawless, eel-like fish for food.

    Tribes once harvested the lamprey from rivers throughout the Columbia Basin, which stretches from the Oregon coast up into Canada. But with dozens of hydroelectric dams in the way, the fish has followed the path of the buffalo – from a food staple of a people to a curiosity.

    Today, the tribes in the Northwest have just one place to go for them: a 40-foot waterfall on the Willamette River flanked by an abandoned paper mill and a power plant, and located about a dozen miles upstream from a Superfund site.

    Unlike salmon, which have drawn billions of dollars in government funds to modify dams and restore habitat, the lamprey have gone largely ignored. It’s the tribes that still eat them that are driving the effort to bring them back.

    The greatest threat the fish now face is the dams, which “will probably lead to their demise,” said Aaron Jackson, who heads the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation efforts to restore lamprey.

    “That’s really sad,” he said, of a fish that has survived hundreds of millions of years while other animals, such as dinosaurs, didn’t. “That something this old would just wink out in my lifetime – that’s unfathomable to me.”

    The lamprey, whose English name comes from the Latin for “rock sucker,” uses its mouth to glom onto rocks and other fish.

    Several years after hatching, they swim downstream to the ocean, where they suck onto the sides of whales, sea lions and fish, feeding as parasites. At full maturity, they swim back upriver to spawn and die.

    Three days a week in July, Indians drive hundreds of miles from their reservations, wade through the green water and, with hands covered in white cotton gloves, pull the writhing gray fish from rocks and stuff them into burlap sacks to take home.

    There, tribal elders will grill the oily, pungent fish, or cut them into links and roast them like hotdogs over open fires.

    The tribes of the Northwest have had a special connection with the lamprey for thousands of years.

    The seven gill slits on the side of its head marked them as a food designated for the region’s tribes by the creator, corresponding to the seven drummers and seven songs of longhouse ceremonies, Jackson said.

    But as more dams were built, the lamprey declined.

    Biologists have estimated that 1 million were still crossing Bonneville Dam on the Columbia east of Portland in the 1970s, before accurate counts were taken. That dropped to 200,000 by 2003, and stands at about 20,000 now, said Bob Heinith, hydroelectric program coordinator for the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission.

    A petition to list them as an endangered species was turned down for lack of information.

    The full gamut of reasons for the declining numbers is not well-understood, but the dams are clearly a big one. About half the fish that pass one dam fail to get over the next, until only a dozen make it to the Idaho border, Heinith said.

    Fish ladders and screens designed for salmon are tough on lamprey. Pollution is, too. Studies on eels in Europe link high levels of industrial toxins, such as dioxin from paper mills, mercury from coal power plants, and pesticides, with low levels of reproductive success.

    Based on an agreement with the tribes, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is working on ways to get lamprey over the dams without making it tougher for salmon, which can be tricky, said David Clugston, a biologist for the corps.

    Adult lamprey, which grow to about 2 feet long and are as big around as a fat hotdog, have trouble with the fast water and sharp corners of fish ladders designed for salmon.

    The young ones, the size of a nightcrawler, get stuck on screens designed to keep young salmon out of turbines.

    So far there have been baby steps. Special lamprey ramps have been installed at Bonneville Dam, and fish ladders have been modified at two more.

    The tribes are experimenting with capturing adult lamprey at dams and releasing them in tributaries, hoping they will re-establish populations of young lamprey that emit the pheromones the adults follow to spawning beds.

    They are also talking to experts in Finland about building lamprey hatcheries.

    With no dams between it and the ocean, Willamette Falls has become the last best place to harvest.

    Tribes from the Umatilla, Warm Springs and Grande Ronde reservations in Oregon, the Yakama reservation in Washington and the Nez Perce reservation in Idaho drive there every July. The time is dependent on when Portland General Electric reduces the flow of water over the falls, diverting it into the dam’s electricity-generating turbines and in the process making it easier to harvest the fish.

    Tribal members leaned off the bows of boats, balanced on slippery rocks or dove into pools to grab the wriggling lamprey. Tribal elders who enjoy the strong fishy taste roast the oil-dripping flesh over small cook-fires amid reservation housing projects.

    Chayenne Wahneta, 18, laughed with friends harvesting the fish, but has no intention of actually eating one. “I never tried them, and I don’t want to,” said Wahneta. “They look ugly.”

    Nez Perce elder Elmer Crow recalled harvesting lamprey from the Columbia as a child, and the satisfaction he felt helping to feed his family. “They are so full of nutrients and grease that the grease drops off into the fire,” he said.

    “When they’re good and golden brown and nice, you pull ’em off and eat ’em. We had the first so-called American hotdog.”

    Crow, who is vice chairman of the Nez Perce Tribe’s fish and wildlife committee, said restoring lamprey is a vital part of restoring salmon. “Life is a complete circle. Remember that,” he said. “If you take something out, a few others go with it.”

    ©2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.


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