Biologist from Yurok Tribe discovers new species of lampreys

Redwood News –

Keith Parker has had a lot of jobs and even a couple of careers in his life. It wasn’t until after he turned 40, however, that he said he found his calling studying fish.

His passion for understanding life beneath the water led the Yurok Fisheries Department biologist to discover two new subspecies of Pacific lamprey, a jawless fish that resembles an eel with a sucker-like mouth, on the Klamath River — one that matures in the ocean and one that matures in the river. The ocean-maturing variety will be referred to in academic literature by the Yurok word for ocean, tewol, while the river-maturing variety will be called by the Yurok word for Pacific lamprey, key’ween.

“Naming them Yurok words was the right thing to do,” Parker said. “It’s our birthright to be scientists on this land, the land where our people have been for many, many generations.”

This is an important first step in restoring the lamprey population, which has experienced a steep decline of about 90 percent in this area since the ’60s, Parker said. Unfortunately, the construction of dams, pollution, water diversion and other human activity has led to that drastic decline.

Research in the Columbia River, running through the states of Washington and Oregon, has shown that the millions of lamprey that would return to the river every year declined to 48,000 in 2011, with an all-time low of 23,000 in 2010, according to the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Council.

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