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Life Aquatic

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News Stream: Shellfish Motives

Elliptio complanta freshwater mussel (Photo: Partnership for the Delaware Estuary)

Bivalves are everywhere: Here's a roundup of some recent articles on the local oyster and mussel population:

A report on mussels in the Delaware River near Philadelphia from Grid magazine:

"There's a lot more mussel work to be done out in the Delaware. In 2010, the research team found a species previously thought to be locally extinct, the Tidewater Mucket. The last comprehensive survey for Delaware River mussels was performed in 1919, and, as Thomas pointed out, the recent surveys have only looked in relatively shallow water. There's no telling what mussel beds sit in the channel."

One article on oyster reef restoration efforts in the Delaware Bay from the News of Cumberland County:

"This year, the task force is trying to promote awareness about oyster restoration after raising $200,000, said Jennifer Adkins, executive director of the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary. According to Adkins, oysters in the Delaware Bay have been hit hard with diseases and are being affected.

'Ultimately, our goals for oyster restoration are to get the oyster populations back to their historic levels. We’d love to see where the populations are high again and be more self-sustaining,' she said."

And a second article on oysters from

"Sea captains employed by the Delaware Bay Oyster Restoration Task Force are currently wrapping up efforts to replenish oyster reefs off Delaware and New Jersey. According to past experience, these efforts will boost the economies of local bayshore communities by approximately $5 million over the coming years. In addition, oyster restoration also results in cleaner water and better fish habitat."

The Whimsy Has Landed


On Saturday, author, artist and re-explorer Allen Crawford completed his 40-mile, 3-day kayak journey from the wilds of New Jersey and landed in Bartram's Garden, planting his flag and claiming Philadelphia in the name of ... Lord Whimsy. Visit for plenty of pictures and audio recordings from the trip. See Crawford among the spatterdock and river clams, hear him at the Naval Yard, gawking at the mothballed ships (or, in Whimsy's words, "recumbent goddesses of the sea").

After the jump, a great shot of the old Philadelphia Electric Company Richmond Generating Station, as seen from the Delaware.

Pacu In Pottstown

Large Pacu at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago. Photo: I, Omnitarian

Here's another fish story via the Schuylkill Action Network: An article in last weekend's Mercury reported that a 22-year-old fisherman caught a pacu—a South American freshwater fish related to the piranha—in the Schuylkill River near Pottstown on Aug. 1. The angler, Josh Carmean, initially thought he'd hooked a two-pound catfish until he examined the fish's teeth.

"Pacu and piranha have similar teeth, but their jaw alignments are different. The piranha also have pointed, razor-sharp teeth with a pronounced underbite, while pacu have squarer and more straighter teeth with a less severe underbite. Also, sources reveal, the pacu are much larger than piranha, some reaching up to 60 pounds or more in the wild.

Pacus are also known to 'eat anything,' according to Deep Sea World zoological manager Matthew Kane. Though not the aggressive carnivores like piranha, the pacu's crushing jaw system can be hazardous. They are often sold to home aquarium owners as 'vegetarian piranhas.'

The pacu may have gotten a bad name as a result of owners illegally releasing them into wild waterways. Once in those waterways, like the Schuylkill River, they can dominate other species vying for available food and other resources, even displace some by introducing exotic parasites or diseases."

Pottstown is upstream from Philadelphia on the Schuylkill, the same river that will host the 2011 Philly Fun Fishing Fest on September 10. Did we mention that registration is free and now open? Might there be a special award to the angler who lands a pacu?

Lord Whimsy Sets Sail

As advertised in this post from a couple weeks ago, author and artist Allen Crawford—otherwise known as Lord Whimsy—has embarked on a 40-mile kayak trip from Mt. Holly, NJ, to Bartram's Garden in Philadelphia. The Hidden River Expedition got underway yesterday morning; visit for a tracking map and, so far, an audio update. The good news: Lord Whimsy has reached the fork of the Rancocas River, and is searching the area (a prime hunting ground for the Lenape as well as European trappers) for arrowheads. The bad news: He's broken his boat's flagpole.

Stay tuned to Lord Whimsy's site for more updates over the weekend; we'll break down the highlights of the trip early next week.

Life Aquatic: Snapping Turtle

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Who's afraid of a little (or, in some cases, actually quite large) snapping turtle? Not Philadelphians, who made dinner out of Cheldyra serpentina for decades in the form of snapper soup, a staple at city restaurants such as the Oyster House and the late Bookbinder's. The truth about snapping turtles is probably somewhere in between; these freshwater turtles can be ill-tempered when out of the water, and their bite can cause severe injury. The snapping evolved as a defense mechanism, as Cheldyra serpentina does not have the ability to retreat into its shell. However, when in the water, snapping turtles are docile and will seldom attack humans.

This spring, PWD biologists spotted two snapping turtles in the lower reaches of Tookany Creek (which becomes Tacony Creek within Philadelphia city limits). These turtles—whose carapaces, or shells, can grow to 20 inches in length—prefer to inhabit muddy areas of slow-running streams, lakes or ponds, and they can survive up to 30 years in the wild. 

For a strange-but-true story of an injured snapping turtle, WMMR-FM DJ Pierre Robert and former 76er Kyle Korver, click here.

Coming Attraction: Hidden River Expedition

Lewis & Clark. Ferdinand Magellan. Lord Whimsy. Only the last man in that list can be called a true "re-explorer." From August 4-6, the author and artist Allen Crawford (who sometimes operates under the name Lord Whimsy) will embark on a 40-mile kayak trip from Mt. Holly, NJ, to Bartram's Garden in Philadelphia. Dubbed the Hidden River Expedition ("Schuylkill" is Dutch for "hidden river"), Crawford will be documenting his adventure via text, photos and video at We'll be tuning in and furiously hotlinking during those three days, as this expedition is a true testament to the recovery of Philadelphia-area waterways and the importance of healthy rivers and streams. Crawford plans to pay particular attention to the rivers' recovering wildlife population (beavers, sturgeon and oysters) among other attractions in and along the water.

For more info, here is the press release and itinerary. After the jump, a photo of Crawford's Steve Zissou-esque Hidden River Expedition patch.

We've Been Shad

Our post from earlier this month about American shad ascending the Schuylkill above Norristown for the first time in nearly 200 years contained a fish story of a different sort, as we mentioned that George Washington (pictured above, on the banks of some other river besides the Schuylkill) may have fed his troops Schuylkill shad during trying Revolutionary times. According to the University of Virginia's Papers of George Washington project, an article by Joseph Lee Boyle suggests whatever fish the troops were eating had been shipped in from other rivers:

"That shad were not in the Schuylkill by late March 1778 is evidenced by a letter Washington wrote to Francis Hopkinson at Bordentown, New Jersey. The Continental Navy Board had been ordered by Congress to move from there to Baltimore and Hopkinson offered some of the Navy’s stores to the General. Washington was "obliged to you for the trouble you have taken in removing the Stores and more so for the offer of the Rice, Oil and Fish…." The Marine Committee of Congress wrote to the Navy Board on 8 April, that they "approve of the offer you have made the General of Rice, Codfish and Oil for the use of the Army."

Anyone interested in the history of shad should check out John McPhee's book The Founding Fish.

Go Fish: American Shad Spotted In Schuylkill Above Norristown For The First Time In Almost 200 Years

Image: Maryland Department of Natural Resources

During a recent community-level fishery survey, Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission biologists encountered an American shad nearly 37 miles upriver in the Schuylkill, marking the first time that shad has been spotted above Norristown since 1820. That year, the Fairmount Dam was constructed, prohibiting shad—which are native to the Schuylkill and its tributaries—from ascending the river during their annual spring spawning run. Restoring the shad population in Pennsylvania's rivers is what led to the formation of the PA Fish and Boat Commission in 1866, and the agency has since worked to remove dams that block shad and other fish from migrating. A total of 10 dams in the Schuylkill have either been removed or now have fishways that allow fish to pass through; many of these restoration projects were completed in the last five years.

Image: PA Fish and Boat Commission

While the shad sighting just below Black Rock Dam (see map above) is a measure of success for the fishways, PWD biologist Lance Butler also notes that "the resurgence of shad is an indicator or returning ecology to Schuylkill." Shad populations decimated by pollution in the early 20th century began making a comeback in the Schuylkill in the 1980s, returning the "founding fish" (a whopper of a fish tale claims American shad from the Schuylkill River saved George Washington and his troops from starvation during the Revolutionary War) to its native waters.

Though the April-June shad migration is now over, see what other species you can spot ascending the Fairmount Dam's fish ladder via the Fish Cam.

Life Aquatic: Mayfly

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When the Philadelphia Water Department's aquatic biologists investigate Philadelphia's streams and rivers to take stock of the number and variety of species inhabiting our waterways (they call this process a bioassessment), they pay special attention to mayflies. The presence of pollution-sensitive mayflies can indicate the level of biological health in a stream, and a mayfly census of sorts is just one of many tools used to monitor the quality of local stream ecosystems.

About 364 days of the year, you're not likely to encounter the version of the mayfly pictured above (which is of the order Ephemeroptera and the family Baetidae). The adult, winged mayfly lives only long enough to reproduce, surviving anywhere from 30 minutes to a day, during which time its digestive system is filled with air. More often you'll see mayflies in the nymph, or naiad, stage, during which they are wingless and mostly feed on algae. And despite its name, mayflies are common not only in May but also through June, July and August.

Life Aquatic: American Shad

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What's living in your rivers? Each week, we describe a species found in Philadelphia's waterways.

PWD's Joe Perillo with an American shad caught near the Fairmount Fish Ladder

In honor of Shadfest—Penn Treaty Park's annual celebration of arts, music, food, craft beer and the Delaware riverfront's past and present—this week we're featuring the American shad. Alosa sapidissima is a Philly fish through and through: Known as one of the hardest-fighting freshwater species, author John McPhee dubbed the American shad "the founding fish" in a book of the same name, highlighting massive spring migrations in the 1700s.

Pollution in the Delaware decimated the shad population in the early 20th century, but the fish began its comeback in the 1980s. Check out the Fairmount Water Works Interpretive Center's Fish Cam to see if you can catch a glimpse of some shad during their spring run.

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