I didn’t realize that this had become national, let alone international news until a friend sent me a story from the UK on the “eels falling from the sky in Fairbanks…”.
I’ve been working on a place along the Chena River that runs through town. The homeowner found two arctic lamprey carcasses in the grass, and had actually seen a gull grab a lamprey out of the river, which then had another gull chase after it and try to steal the prize. We basically thought it was pretty cool, although they are not the most attractive thing I’ve ever seen pulled from the Chena. Not the nastiest either, by the way.
There must be a large population in the Chena right now, because gulls have been dropping the eel-like creatures all about town. One was dropped in the parking lot of Value Village, which was found alive and placed in a bucket of water. It has since found a home at the Alaska Department of Fish & Game, and can be seen in it’s aquarium.
Arctic lampreys are native to Alaska, and the adults spend much of their life out at sea. They migrate up the river system in winter to spawn. A lamprey at the lower Yukon in November, may make it to the Chena River by February at lamprey speed. The main pulse of the spawning lamprey is expected here around solstice.
The young lamprey can spend a couple of years in the mud of rivers like the Chena as blind aquatic worms. Within a few years, they grow fins and eyes and migrate downstream, with many going to the Pacific Ocean, but some remain in fresh water their whole lives.
Lampreys are parasitic; they attach themselves to fish and their rasp-like tounge burrows into the host’s flesh allowing them to eat the flesh and blood of the host.
Not a lot is known about the life cycle of the arctic lamprey, but Fish & Game is hoping to catch a few to implant radio transmitters to study the elusive resident. If anyone around Fairbanks finds a lamprey, they are asked to call Alaska Fish & Game, and not throw the carcasses back into the river like some people have done…
All photos courtesy of the Alaska Department of Fish & Game.