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Endangered razorback sucker discovered in Grand Canyon

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Stephanie Paige Ogburn | Oct 29, 2012 06:00 AM

On Oct. 9, biologists electrofishing in Grand Canyon National Park caught a razorback sucker -- the first one seen in the park in 20 years. The endangered fish, known for its distinctive humpback, huge size (up to three feet long!) and long life (40-plus years!) was once common in the Colorado River and its tributaries.

Hoover damBut its population has plummeted since the construction of dams, which lowered water temperatures in the river, and increased predation by exotic species. Journalist Hillary Rosner covered the plight of the fish in her 2010 feature story, “One tough sucker.” (She also won a sweet science writing award for that story -- check it out!)

As Rosner reported, sucker populations are now nearly limited to reservoirs on the Lower Colorado, and its survival depends on re-stocking programs. That's why the discovery of the fish in the Grand Canyon was such a surprise.

Biologists believe the fish swam upstream 50 miles from Nevada’s Lake Mead, and are trying to figure out what the discovery means for the embattled species. “What’s different now, and how do we maintain it?” asked Martha Hahn, science director for Grand Canyon National Park.

Here's what a razorback sucker looks like. 

Razorback sucker

Pretty nifty to find one of these swimming around in the Colorado River, eh?

Stephanie Paige Ogburn is the online editor at High Country News.

Emily Guerin contributed research.

Image of Hoover Dam courtesy Shutterstock.

Image of sucker courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Gerald/Jennifer Monks
Gerald/Jennifer Monks
Oct 29, 2012 12:29 PM
Could be one of the 7 razorbacks that were implanted with radio telemetry and released in the Hualapai Reservation section of the river back in the late 90's. I was a fisheries tech then and tracked the fish as they headed downstream into the lake. We lost contact with them likely due to the fact that the transmitters only work at depths of less than 100'. There are other "wild" razorbacks in the lake as well...but rare as hen's teeth.
Douglas Tooley
Douglas Tooley
Nov 28, 2012 02:37 PM
In May, 2010, I did a two week epic low water trip down the Dirty Devil river and noticed an abundance of these strange fish in some of the lower stretches of the river. Though not confirmed I suspect, based on HCN photos, that these fish were Razorbacks - a conclusion at least partially supported by their finding at the Lake Powell 'mouth'.[…]/two_weeks_in_the_dirty_devil_c.html
David Zaber
David Zaber
Nov 29, 2012 12:20 PM
Were all the individual fish of the same general age? That would suggest stocking vs. natural reproduction
Douglas Tooley
Douglas Tooley
Dec 01, 2012 02:03 PM
At this point, 2 1/2 years after the trip, I couldn't say. I did contact the Fish and Wildlife service after researching the fish briefly via google and before posting here. There were published results of the fish at the Lake Powell mouth, but nowhere else, according to my limited research. USFWS was curious about the subject, but shed no additional information. They also did not seem to be concerned about visitors disturbing habitat. (or Redds???)

Are you aware of a stocking program on the Dirty Devil?

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