Friday, July 26, 2013

Fish Rodeo

It’s all fun and games…

until someone wrecks their right ear by  diving too deep hunting clams and can’t equalize because of a sinus infection.   

I’ll back up.

Last summer, we collected 4 species of fish along with some clams and snails at each of our 12 survey sites, cut out a little piece of their muscle, and prepped the dry, ground powder for stable isotope analysis. It basically tells us who’s eating what (or whom, as the case may be) in the lake, and based on those data, it would appear that the food chain is getting shorter (gasp!).
A Perissodus, one of our target species! Their foraging strategy is to EAT SCALES OFF OTHER FISH (what the what!), so they (usually) manage to catch themselves in the net when they prey on other net-victims.
To convince ourselves that it’s real, we’re re-doing the entire survey this summer. Pete has years of experience wrangling fish, but I’m new to this game and have marginal (at best) skills to bring to the team. To date, I’ve only caught one Lepidiolamprologus (!), and Pete has captured the other 83 fish solo (I’m such a failure!). But since we still have 5 sites to go, I’m counting on the chance to improve my stats in the 11th hour.
Pete, doing what he does
My supposed contribution was to collect the clams and snails, and usually this isn’t too hard since even in my ineptitude, I’m brilliant at hunting things that don’t move too fast or too much.  But clams were hard to come by at certain sites, and I ended up freediving a bit deeper than I’m (apparently) capable of going. The clotty blood in my spit was a sign that all was not well up in my sinuses. That, and the fact that it felt like someone was stabbing me in the ear with a sharp object every time I went under.
It's no big deal when they're nice and shallow, but that's not always the case.
Luckily my far-sighted teammates were ready for such an event, so I’ve been bumming ear meds from buddies and trying to keep my face out of the water in the meantime. 

Fish rodeo days get kind of long, especially when most of the cutting and tagging occurs after dinner. We’re pickling these guys and bringing them back to the States with us, so if you want to see them up close and personal, come to the Zoology Museum in Madison this fall! 
Since death by hammer awaits my unlucky victims, these clams have good reason to remain evasive.
As for the food chain question, we won’t have stable isotope data in hand for quite awhile...but it would appear that big changes have occurred in this lake in the past 10 years. Stay tuned.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Looks like we made it

Why not start my 2013 field blog with a Barry Manilow reference (it just feels right given the title, ignoring the content; I have no idea what that song’s about…)?

We. Are. HERE!!

It’s been 10-ish days since leaving Madison, and after months of preparation-related stress and daydreaming about being someplace else, I’m finally back on the shores of the lake I’ve thought about daily since I left last August. 
It's a wee bit hazy since we're deep into the dry season, but she's still a sight for sleep-deprived, sore eyes.
It’s oh, so good to be here.  

We’ve jumped right into the business of collecting data for what looks to be the last year of the Lake Tanganyika Ecosystem Project. Work-specific blogs are forthcoming, but I’ll start at the beginning, with the journey and the story of how we got here. 

Getting to Kigoma is Not Easy. This year’s travel adventure involved:

  *   a 3-hour minivan ride to Chicago with Pete and 3 generations of his family (during which time my bladder nearly burst). Pete may or may not have sat on the floor of said minivan due to a seat shortage; 

  *   24-ish hours in the air/moving zombie-like through airports (and watching more in-flight movies in 2 sittings than I’d previously watched in the entire year leading up to this trip). FYI: Django Unchained is worth a watch; 

  *   2 lazy days in Dar es Salaam (eating good food, hitting the fish market, befriending an eccentric photographer, and getting the 2nd best massage of my life); 
In case you're in the market for half a shark's head, I might know a guy...
The underside of a guitarfish is very awesome!
  *   one more flight to Kigoma on a plane that was probably brand new circa 1970 (complete with an ash tray in the arm rest). The inflight meal consisted of 2 stale buns, and my heart almost broke when I realized there was no jelly. 

There was no stopover in Mwanza this year, home of Lake Victoria and these nasty-ass Nile perch. This is the biggest one I've ever seen, and it smelled terrible. You never know what you'll see in the Dar es Salaam fish market...

  *   upon landing, Pete being swiftly whisked away to the immigration office with local authorities because he didn’t have a residence permit (due to a clerical error last year, mine was accidentally renewed an extra year, so I flew under the radar this time…)

But we got here with all (ALL!!!) of our luggage, and big hugs and the smiling faces of the friends we left behind last summer greeted us upon arrival. 

Joining us this year are a couple of Pete’s buddies from grad school and a professional photographer from the States who are here to make a website about the project. It works in my favor since it keeps Pete occupied and I have time for other pursuits, scholarly and otherwise (Swimming! Napping! Submitting revisions to a manuscript One Entire Week before deadline! Woohoo!!). 

I think my body is finally adjusting to this time zone (Madison + 8, by the by), and my guts are getting used to the daily consumption of ridiculous quantities of beans. Slowly but surely we’re finding our rhythm, and it’s time to get to work!