Beware of sea lampreys

May 21, 2010 12:06:20 PM PDT
The Asian carp has been getting a lot of attention in the last few weeks. But, it's not the only invader that poses a threat to the Great Lakes, says Elizabeth Latenser of Chicago's Shedd Aquarium. The sea lamprey is another trouble maker. Considered an aquatic "vampire," the sea lamprey is an invasive species that destroys native lake trout populations by attaching themselves and drawing blood and nutrients from the fish.

Following the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) recommendations for Great Lakes restoration, Shedd Aquarium, is helping to raise awareness about the dangers of invasive species, including the sea lamprey. One of the earliest and most destructive invasive species, it just one of the more than 180 in the Great Lakes today. Invasive species are deadly to the ecosystem and costly to control, says Latenser, Shedd's Great Lakes coordinator. Without natural predators or a niche in the food chain, invasive species are able to out-compete native fish for food and habitat.

Invasive plants and animals enter the Great Lakes in many different ways, like ballast water, intentional or accidental releases from home aquariums, and moving recreational boats from one body of water to another without rinsing. Nearly all invasive species introduction into the Great Lakes is caused by human actions.

In the 1960's the sea lamprey devastated the lake trout populations to the point where commercial fishermen could no longer sustain their practices. However, sea lamprey control ? including research, lampricide, barriers and traps ? has reduced the sea lamprey population by 90 percent in some areas. The millions of recreational and commercial fishers in the Great Lakes basin depend on sea lamprey control for the fishery they enjoy.

Through public outreach, educational programs and the invasive species exhibit in the Local Waters Gallery, Shedd Aquarium encourages the public to take action. Some tips to help prevent the spread of invasive species, such as sea lampreys, include:

  • Boaters, scuba divers, kayakers and other Great Lakes lifestylers: Pressure wash all of your gear before moving boats, tackle boxes or BCDs to another body of water.
  • Pet owners: never dump unwanted pets into our water ways.
  • Fishermen: Seal up unwanted bait instead of dumping it into the lake and potentially starting another invasive population.
  • Everyone who loves the Great Lakes: Write your local representative and tell him or her how important the Great Lakes are to you.
  • To learn more about the Great Lakes conservation and some ways you can protect our waters, please visit www.sheddaquarium.org.

    ABOUT ELIZABETH LATENSER

    Shedd's Great Lakes coordinator, she has worked with the US Fish and Wildlife Service for the last three years, conducting the Illinois Rivers Survey, also known as the Carp Corral. This survey tracks the movements of invasive species in the Great Lakes region. Elizabeth works with partners and organizations in Chicago and throughout the Great Lakes basin to coordinate public outreach programs that educate and inspire the public to protect the Great Lakes.


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