Neuron Culture

Via the invaluable Knight-Ridder Science Journalism Tracker comes woeful news from the L.A. Times: One of the few remaining success stories, the Alaskan salmon fishery, is under threat by a parasite whose expansion seems related to climate change.

I’m trying to finish an unrelated story myself, so will simply post the Tracker’s write-up below the photo, which comes from a first-rate photo essay that accompanies Kenneth Weiss’s full story at the LA Times. There’s also quite a nice video version at the Times’ site. (I can’t figure out how to embed it here, but it heads the main story.


More Pacific coast salmon woes. In Alaska’s warming rivers the chinook are getting “ick.”

Up on Alaska’s northernmost, tundra-speckled coast the locals already have complained in recent years that global warming has made it harder to keep meat fresh in their cellars – as permafrost thaws, the ground doesn’t provide a natural freezer in every hole. Now, across more of the state, some salmon are going bad while they’re still swimming. The LA Times’s Kenneth R. Weiss on Sunday had a long feature (and isn’t it nice to find a paper, even the LAT with its buyouts, layoffs, and other thrift, still running such?) on it. An increasing number of salmon pulled from the Yukon and other rivers, gleaming and flopping, are promptly thrown in the “dog pot” as inedible and unmarketable for people. The meat, it says here, turns mealy. Smoked and dried it looked more like “strips of greasy rotten mango” than the intended rich red jerky.

The fish have a form of the parasitic disease ich, pronounced ick (familiar to many aquarium-owning fish hobbyists), reports Weiss. His piece lays out the rise of its incidence, suspicion that the warming water has made the fish more susceptible in the last 20 years, and a scientific and regulatory ruckus that pitted factions within the fishing industry and state fish and game officials over the problem’s urgency. The issue, it appears from this piece, has been a hot one for some time there. Weiss gives it a needed, more national stage and presents it as an example of the changing landscape of wildlife diseases.

Included, in this age of converging media, is a photo gallery online and a well-done video version.

It’s a colorful package with many cited sources. The Tracker would have had plenty more questions for the researchers about the disease’s dynamics and the hypothesized link to warmer water. Such as – do young salmon probably catch it on their way out of the rivers, then worsen when they migrate back from the sea to spawn? Do salmon in rivers farther south, from Canada down into California where rivers presumably have been this warm all along, get ich – or might subpopulations there have developed resistance? (LATE ADDITION: Weiss says he asked. No answer yet and room in the news hole for questions that have no answers is rare). But this yarn is convincing as it stands. Something has changed. Temperature is a prime suspect.

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