Aliens invade Traverse City’s Visitor Center in September

Display to feature live sea lampreys and showcase other invasive species to the Great Lakes.

Sea lampreys will be on display Sept. 4-7, 2015, at the Traverse City Visitors Center.
Sea lampreys will be on display Sept. 4-7, 2015, at the Traverse City Visitors Center.

A special exhibit on aquatic invasive species will be on display Sept. 4-7, 2015, at the Traverse City Visitor Center.  The highlight of the display will be live sea lamprey, an invasive fish sometimes called the "vampire of the Great Lakes." 

The lamprey display, sponsored by the Great Lakes Fishery Commission and the U.S. Geological Survey, will include a tank of live lampreys that visitors can watch (and even handle) as well as information about the creatures and the methods used to control them. Lamprey control experts from the USGS biological station at Hammond Bay will be on site to answer questions.

Michigan Sea Grant Extension has added information on other invasive species with displays of Asian carp, the aquatic plant Eurasian watermilfoil, rusty crayfish and more. The National Park Service also will provide displays and short videos.

Sea lampreys are quintessential invaders of the Great Lakes and one of the few exotic species that have been able to be managed in the system.  The fish moved into the lakes through shipping canals in the early 20th century and have had an extremely destructive impact on lake economy and ecology. Each lamprey kills more than 40 pounds of fish in 12 to 18 months, boring a hole through the side of their victims through which they drain blood and bodily fluids.

Since 1958, when the United States and Canada signed the joint Convention on Great Lakes Fisheries, the two countries have been working to control the lamprey plague by treating streams where the creatures spend their immature larval stage. Control measures have reduced the threat by as much as 90 percent but require millions in annual resources and diligent treatment efforts to keep the population reduced.

"The Great Lakes fishery is worth $7 billion to the people of Canada and the United States," said Traverse City Mayor Michael Estes, an adviser to the Fishery Commission, "and without sea lamprey control, we simply would not have the fishery we enjoy today."

Scientists collectively agree that invasive species are among the top threats to the Great Lakes.  The proactive efforts of trying to prevent species such as Asian carp, northern snakehead, hydrilla and other invasive species which are already reproducing in North America from ever entering the Great Lakes basin are a worthy effort and investment. Once established, as species such as zebra and quagga mussels have done in the Great Lakes, there often is not much that can be done to effectively control or possibly eradicate these invasives. They can turn the food-web upside down, negatively impact native species, and coastal economies.

The invasives exhibit can be viewed 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Sept. 4 and 5; 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Sept. 6 and 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Sept. 7 at 101 W. Grandview Parkway, at the north end of Union Street. The Visitor Center is operated by the Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau Education Foundation. For more information, call (231) 947-0692.

Michigan Sea Grant helps to foster economic growth and protect Michigan’s coastal, Great Lakes resources through education, research and outreach. A collaborative effort of the University of Michigan and Michigan State University, Michigan Sea Grant is part of the NOAA-National Sea Grant network of 33 university-based programs.

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