Muddy Boots is our internal blog where our staff members share experiences getting their boots muddy with on-the-ground conservation research! You can find our contributions to external blogs and Op Eds here.
I have been going out into the field for more than 20 years, starting in Cuba, and now in Canada. Coming to WCS Canada to work on lake sturgeon telemetry – tracking tagged fish remotely using receivers – was a dream job for me. What would I need to do? Everything that I love. First, work with (and be part of) a great team of diverse people. Second, uncover the mysterious movements of lake sturgeon, that ancient fish that has managed to survive for millennia while swimming through the increasingly endangered rivers of North America.
We wanted to know what these fish do, where they swim to and from, where they go to find their ‘loved one’ (‘ones’ I should say, they don’t mind promiscuity). We also wanted to know how they handle the dams that now divide so many of our rivers, and where should be protected from future development, in order to ensure that sturgeon continue to swim the rivers of the far north in Ontario for future generations.
To do this, we had to go where they live, and deploy our undercover agents – our tracking tags – that can tell us what the sturgeon are up to underwater. We sedate the fish for a quick surgery to implant the tags just under the skin in the bellies of the fish. The fish recover fast, and then we release them, to keep swimming the rivers, and these tags send information to receiving units we deploy in the water. These receivers hold their knowledge close – we only need to download that information twice a year. When I say “we,” I mean this great collaborative team that I am part of, formed by a mix of WCS Canada scientists and Moose Cree First Nation scientists and knowledge-keepers, who are passionate about wild animals and wild places.
So, what can be said about my adventures and misadventures in the field? Well, this is my memory of a trip this past summer:
Long trip in a truck, long trip in a train, long trip in a canoe (thank you Darrell for piloting it!), camp, first time camping in Canada (YAY! I should do it more often), cold night, warm sleeping bag, amazing sunrise, setting nets, checking receivers (these cables are tricky), found receivers and anchors (YAY! but they are so heavy! I’m glad that Dan is here), checking nets, tagging fish, setting nets again, tagging fish again, setting nets, deploying receivers (wow this is heavy), long canoe trips (you do know your river Abel!), beautiful days (WOW very big black bear, amazing animal), checking receivers again, deploying receivers again, going through rapids (get out of the boat and walk the rapid, it’s too shallow and rocky for us), back to camp (thanks for the food Betty), leaving the beautiful North French behind, back to the road, and on to the next site.
Here we go again: camping (so many caterpillars around!), mosquitoes, black flies, checking nets (oh, that fish that got away!), setting nets (so much vegetation underwater!), tears for the flooded land, back to camp (damned mosquitoes, and damned black flies, would you leave me alone?), downloading data (YAY, we found the receivers), more mosquitoes, beautiful day, such a majestic river! (damn the dams), mosquitoes, many mosquitoes, damn these skin-piercing blood-sucking insects, more netting, more fish tagging (thanks for helping Jennifer! Hmm… many of these fish are my age – the things they’ve seen!), boating again (thank you Billy, such a hot day!), more receivers, more mosquitoes, such a calm day, sublime water! Time to pack up (it’s raining so hard!) – the hardest part is now done. Long road trip back to a very needed shower.
This has been such a rewarding experience. The work was challenging, but those were beautiful rivers, and most importantly, such an amazing group of people! I am so proud of being part of this! I wouldn’t change this for any other job, but I would definitely delete the mosquitoes next time.
Working to understand fascinating species like sturgeon in remote places like the North French River requires specialized equipment, miles of travel and lots of mosquito repellant. You can help to keep this important work happening by donating to support WCS Canada field research.
Abel Cheechoo, Moose Cree First Nation field assistance; and Liset Cruz Font,
Dan Struthers and Liset Cruz Font, WCS Canada.
Jennifer Simard, Moose Cree First Nation Resource Protection, releasing a
tagged lake sturgeon in the Mattagami River.
Receivers attached to the ropes and to anchors that keep them underwater
throughout the year.
Connie O’Conner, WCS Canada.
Dan Struthers, WCS Canada, with Darrell
Isaac, Moose Cree First Nation field assistance.
The canoes were packed full.
Dan Struthers, WCS Canada; Billy Isaac,
Moose Cree First Nation Resource Protection;
and Larry Rickard, Moose Cree First Nation
field assistance, checking some nets.
Photo credits: Banner | Lila Tauzer © WCS Canada