Water, Earth, Sky

Scott Shenk writes about the environment.

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Sea lampreys, anyone?

Along  with the shad, herring and rockfish making their annual spawning run up the Rappahannock River are scary-looking fish, resembling  eels, that many seasoned river-lovers don’t readily recognize: sea lampreys.  John Odenkirk, a fish biologist with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries’s Fredericksburg office, says he gets occasional inqueries about the rather common visitors, native to coastal waters. They are parasites that attach themselves to fish, hitch-hikers if you will, sucking blood and bodily fluids. A bridge safety inspection engineer called last week about what Odenkirk suspects were lampreys spotted way upstream in the Rapidan River in Madison County.  He says it’s nothing alarming and that some people mistake them for another scary-looking fish,  northern snakeheads,  an introduced species thriving in the Potomac River below the nation’s capital.  Thankfully, none of  those  have been found in the Rappahannock.

The removal of the Embrey Dam in 2004 has allowed migratory fish, including sea lampreys,  access to the upper Rappahannock and its tributaries.  In a story last week I reported that American shad have been found in surveys 25 miles upstream at Kellys Ford. The photo below, of several sea lampreys,  was taken by the National Park Service.

Sea lampreys


  • Cindy McHaney

    My daughter and I discovered a dead sea lamprey in the Robinson River in Madison County this weekend. It was about two feet long. Kind of a scary sight!! Do they ever attach themselves to humans??

  • Peter Steele

    Very good Post Rusty.
    Thanks for sharing it. Its very interested.