Monday, April 28, 2014

Episode 211 (4-28-14): Going Underwater to Explore Fish Migration

Click to listen to episode (2:51)


From the Cumberland Gap to the Atlantic Ocean, this is Virginia Water Radio for the week of April 28, 2014.

This week, we feature more mystery sounds.  Have a listen for about 20 seconds, and see if you can guess what and where you might be if you heard these sounds.  And here’s a hint: this might sound like music in a certain kind of scales.


If you guessed a fish underwater, you’re right!  Those were underwater recordings made by a kayaker on the Appomattox River in Petersburg, Va., this past April 18, in order to give us some idea of what fish might hear or experience as they travel through waters of various speeds.  But where would those fish be going?  All fish, of course, move within relatively short distances to find food, cover, or nesting areas.  But some fish species migrate hundreds or even thousands of miles between salt water and fresh waters, or within oceans, particularly to spawn their young.  Two Virginia examples are American Shad, in which reproducing adults migrate annually from coastal waters upstream to spawn and then go back downstream; and American Eels, in which reproducing adults migrate downstream to ocean waters to spawn, but only once in their life.  These and other migration patterns allow fish to find favorable conditions for reproduction or overwintering.  Such migrations can be vital not only to the fish, but also to fish predators, from Grizzly Bears out west that feed on upstream-migrating Pacific Salmon, to Virginia’s native tribes and European settlers who relied on spring shad migrations up the James and other rivers to relieve winter’s scarcity.  Thanks to Raven Harris for providing this week’s sounds.

For other water sounds and music, and for more Virginia water information, visit our Web site at, or call us at (540) 231-5463.  From the Virginia Water Resources Research Center in Blacksburg, I’m Alan Raflo, thanking you for listening, and wishing you health, wisdom, and good water.

[All Internet addresses mentioned were functional as of 4/28/14]

American Shad.  Artwork by Duane Raver, part of art commissioned in the 1970s by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS).  Made available for public use by the FWS’ National Digital Library, online at, accessed 4-28-14.

The underwater sounds in this episode were recorded by Raven Harris, of Newport News, Va., on the Appomattox River in Petersburg, Va., on April 18, 2014; used with permission.

Thanks also to the following people for their help with the content of this episode: Paul Angermeier and Jane Argentina, both with the Virginia Tech Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation; and John Copeland, Ron Messina, and John Odenkirk, all with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

For a Virginia Water Radio episode about sounds made by fish, please see “A Medley of Fish Sounds,” Episode 77 (week of 8-29-11), online at


Information on fish migration in general was taken from The Diversity of Fishes, by Gene S. Helfman et al. (Malden, Mass: Blackwell Science, Inc.), 1997.

Information on fish migration in Virginia was taken from “On the Road to Recover: American Shad Restoration,” Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, online at; and from “Virtual Aquarium,” Virginia Tech College of Natural Resources and Environment, online at

Other sources of information on fish in Virginia include the following:

Freshwater Fishes of Virginia
, by Robert E. Jenkins and Noel M. Burkhead (Bethesda, Md.: American Fisheries Society), 1994.

“Virginia Fishes” [freshwater game species], Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, online at

“Virginia Saltwater Angler’s Guide,” Virginia Marine Resources Commission (2006), online at

The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) “Shad Cam”—recording movement of shad and other fish upstream in the James River near Richmond at Boshers Dam—is viewable online at

For information on some current research into sounds that fish and perceive, see the “Sound Production” Web site of Carol E. Johnston in the Department of Fisheries at Auburn University, online at

A language connection: You may have heard these fish-migration terms: anadromous (fish that go from salt water to freshwater to spawn, such as American Shad and Pacific Salmon); and catadromous (fish that go from freshwater to salt water to spawn, such as American Eel).  Both words derive from the Greek words "dramein" and "dromos," which refer to running.  Other words using derived from that root are aerodrome, hippodrome, and syndrome.

ADDED 5/13/15 - Roanoke Times "Outdoors" columnist Bill Cochran describes the annual Striped Bass migration upstream, and its popularity with anglers, in the following article:

Weldon striper run is spectacular and getting better, Roanoke Times, 5/13/15.

Virginia Water News and Other Information
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