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Tracking the elusive eel

Queen’s University researcher Colleen Burliuk is diving deep into the world of the endangered American eel, in hopes of unravelling the mystery of its life.

Working with Queen’s researcher and supervisor John Casselman (Biology), Ms. Burliuk has been tracking the eels living in the St. Lawrence River to learn more about their little-known winter habitat requirements as part of the research that will be used in her graduate program.

Colleen Burliuk holds the elusive and mysterious American eel that is now listed as endangered.

“The American eel population has been in decline for a while,” explains Ms. Burliuk, who is conducting winter fieldwork for her graduate studies. “They are mysterious creatures and nothing is really known about their winter habitat. This research can help us learn more about eels and improve their habitat to increase the population.”

Last fall, Ms. Burliuk implanted small radio-acoustic transmitters into six American eels. She used that technology to track their movements in the river over the winter months. Though the data is preliminary at this point, she will continue to gather data this spring and add another dozen eels to her current tracking project.

Stabilizing and increasing the American eel population is important for a number of reasons. “These eels are a very ancient fish with large cultural significance. If abundant, they would control such invasive populations as gobies and keep the river ecosystem balanced.”

Along with gaining new knowledge into the local eel population, Ms. Burliuk hopes to spawn new interest in the American eel in the younger generation. She herself didn’t become interested in the eel until she joined Dr. Casselman’s lab. Now she is giving presentations to early grade school classes and asking them to pass their new knowledge along to others.