Bend museum playing role in prehistoric fish recovery; High Desert Museum releases 2 lampreys, will get 2 more

Two Pacific lampreys, residents at the High Desert Museum since February, were released Thursday into the upper Umatilla River basin through a re­introduction effort to restore the population of the culturally important fish.

The High Desert Museum housed the two jawless, snakelike fish in partnership with the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, which is working with other local tribes to manage the lamprey’s dwindling population.

In the next few weeks, members of the Umatilla tribe will bring another pair of Pacific lamprey to the museum.

Jessica Stewart, associate curator of wildlife at the High Desert Museum, said the museum plans to regularly house and release lampreys, making the prehistoric fish a consistent attraction at the museum.

The lampreys’ presence at the museum has helped educate the public about the often misunderstood creature, Stewart said. At first glance, lampreys startle people with their circular mouths, filled with sharp teeth. But lampreys are a critical part of the ecosystem and are important features of the diet and religious ceremonies of Northwest tribes.

“Their mouths are kind of creepy to look at for many people, but we do a fish talk every day at the museum and try to lean heavily on the lamprey.” Stewart said. “As soon as you inform people about their importance, ecologically and culturally, that stigma goes away pretty quickly.”

The two lampreys at the museum were kept in a 710-gallon aquarium at the Autzen otter exhibit.

Using the suction of their circular mouths, the lampreys were able to pick up and move around rocks and logs on the bottom of the aquarium. Museum staff had to place a lid on top of the aquarium because the lampreys were capable of climbing out. Lampreys…

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