Pacific lampreys (Entosphenus tridentatus) have writhing, snakelike bodies and tooth-studded, suction-cup mouths.Tom Mchugh / Getty Images
Lampreys are not believed to have the sort of homing instinct that allows salmon to find the very stream where they were born. But research shows lampreys respond to pheromone cues — sniffing out chemicals released by their gall bladders — to choose a suitable stream for spawning.
So if there are no lampreys in a stream, no lampreys will choose that stream. Translocation, it turns out, is critical for restoring lampreys, even if the direct offspring of translocated fish don’t return to those waters.
“It’s very unselfish restoration” that the tribes have undertaken, Monroe said. “It’s really a big-picture view of how we save fish. It’s unlikely that lamprey translocated and spawned in Mission Creek by the Umatilla or Newsome Creek by the Nez Perce will make it back there as adults. Everybody is doing it in an unselfish way to try and keep these fish around.”
“That wisdom — that all things work together — was carried by elders like Elmer,” Monroe said.
On a recent Saturday at the Nez Perce Historical Park in Spalding, Idaho, Lynda Crow prepared food for the first anniversary memorial of Elmer Crow’s death.
A year earlier, Lynda and Elmer Crow, with two grandsons, intended to go sturgeon fishing in the Snake River at Buffalo Eddy, a favorite spot of Elmer’s and an ancient gathering site marked by hundreds of petroglyphs, some dating back 4,500 years.
“It was such a hot day, the kids jumped right in,” Lynda said. The wake from a passing jet boat, of the sort that takes tourists upriver to Hells Canyon, began sloshing against the shore, pulling the grandsons away from the shallows. Elmer and Lynda grabbed the older of the two, who was closer to shore. The waves pulled the younger grandson deeper into the river.
“Elmer jumped in to get him. The wake was pulling them out farther and farther. They were so far out,” Lynda said.
She flagged down a family in a passing boat, who spotted the boy apparently bobbing in the river. They plucked him out and raced him to shore.
“Where’s Elmer?” Lynda asked. “Where is your grandfather?”
“Papa was holding me on his shoulders,” the grandson said. The selfless act was Elmer Crow’s last.
Horrified, the boaters gunned back out into the deeper water, only to find Crow’s body.
On the anniversary of his death, Crow’s family placed a headstone on his grave. The hunk of basalt has a sinuous lamprey carved deep across its arched top.
“Lamprey were such a big part of him, it’s literally etched on his headstone,” his son Jeremy FiveCrows said.