Snorkeling as a survey method

Submitted by Kim Portwood on Fri, 2017-06-23 00:00

There were 6 of us that went snorkeling in the river looking for trout.  First of all, that water is just as cold as I imagined it would be.  The way to find trout is to start downstream of a calmer, deeper area of the river and slowly make your way upstream by grasping rocks and pulling yourself along.  This sounds easy in theory.  In real life, it is much more difficult.  First of all, the current pulls you downstream as you cling to smooth, slimy rocks on the bottom.  Sometimes the current is strong enough that you and the anchor rock you were clinging to both go downstream.    The fisheries biologist told us that the bigger cutthroat will be at the edge of the pools because they sit and wait for the easy food to come their way.  The smaller fish are further downstream and they have to work a bit harder for the food.   After a bit of practice, we were able to view several fish in the pool.  They looked like pretty large fish until you think about the magnification of the water and realize that they were about 12 inches or so.  It amazes me that this survey technique is still used.  We did learn that the latest technique of DNA sampling the river will most likely replace this and other on the ground techniques.  I feel bad that the sampling jobs will not be available to future generations.   After talking to other members of the camp, we realized that there will still be jobs, but they will be different.  People will be doing the work from a lab rather than the field.   Interesting. 


cknigge's picture

That sounds super awesome! I'm jealous that I'm at a computer right now! How long were you guys out there doing this for?

Kim Portwood's picture

We were only out there for about 30 minutes once we got the wetsuits on.  Once you got over the initial shock it was very interesting.  Everyone that went wished we had more time to look longer.  It was a nice hot day so it was enjoyable.   If you come to the actual camp in the future, bring your Go Pro to capture the trout. 

Another great thing that happend at the river...Amanda found an Orvis fly rod on the bottom of the river.  Now she will learn how to fly fish!!

Darcy Hale's picture

What an opportunity!  The closest I got to snorkeling on our float day was getting our kayak caught in a Russian Olive tree and tipping over into the Portneuf for an unplanned swim.  Opposite of your experience, I was quite surprised at how warm the water was as I was completely submersed.  That day we had the river temperature at around 15* C.  I wasn't in the river more than a few mintues, however.  I have snorkeled in ocean water before and struggled with breathing calmly.  I can't imagine mastering the breathing well in cold, murky river water.  How fascinating that you were able to observe cutthroat in this matter and collect data through this method.  I cannot imagine labs ever replacing the value hands on field experience provides.  I understand that technology can improve analysis, but there is no subsitution for human curiosity that is motivated and elevated through in-field experience.  Thank you for sharing.

Eric Rude's picture

That sounds so cool! Wish I could be there snorkeling, too! The stretch of the Portneuf River that we floated down was very turbid, so I don't think we would have been able to see anything.

Nola Shanley's picture

Great post, Kim!  As a digital observer, your post had narrative detail to allow one to imagine themselves there....snorkeling in the cold water, tracking the fish for survey purposes.  It will be interesting to see how the field continues to change in reference to data collection.  I wonder if working in a lab versus out in the field might be a draw from some and a deterrent for others?   Thank you for sharing your snorkeling experiences!  I honestly would have loved to have stepped out of my comfort zone to take part in this activity!