Chris Bunt inserts a tiny radio tag into the belly of a sleeping bass,
above, and stitches it up, below, so biologists can study whether the
rebuilt Springbank Dam poses an obstruction to the movement of fish.(MIKE HENSEN/Sun Media)
Carrying tiny transmitters and trailing tiny
antennae, they're sending messages that will determine how humans use
the Thames River and how the river looks in spring.
Already, the fish have delayed the shutting of the rebuilt
Springbank Dam and have Londoners wondering why the river is so low
"We are getting calls from people saying, 'Why does the river look
so different?' " said Pat Donnelly, London's watershed manager.
The answer: a multi-year study on how fish are moving up and down the river over the reconstructed dam.
The dam was traditionally shut the May long weekend, allowing water to pool upstream and boaters to start using the river.
But no one knew if that date allowed fish to finish heading upstream to spawn, Donnelly said.
"It was just a rule of thumb."
So a few years ago, when the city began reconstructing the dam, it
decided to commission a study determining how long the fish spawn and
how they would react to the rebuilt dam.
"We have the opportunity to learn and understand the river a lot better," Donnelly said.
Enter biologist Chris Bunt, owner of Biotactic Fish and Wildlife Research in Kitchener.
He's in charge of selecting 60 fish each spring from three species -- smallmouth bass, white suckers and shorthead redhorse.
Each fish is caught upstream of the Springbank Dam before spawning
and put into a cooler containing a solution that puts it to sleep.
Bunt and his assistant make a one-centimetre incision in the
sleeping fish's belly and place a three-gram transmitter inside, with a
20-centimetre antenna trailing below.
Then the fish is taken about 200 metres south of Springbank and
given a couple of hours to recover, before being placed in the river to
go back upstream.
The transmitters are constantly sending data, about 65,000 lines a
week, telling Bunt if the dam is stopping or delaying the fish. Even a
short delay can stop the fish from spawning.
The transmitters don't harm the fish, which build a pocket of
tissue around the transmitter to keep it away from other organs, Bunt
said. And some species are able to discard the antenna and transmitter
through its digestive system.
Bunt conducted a baseline study in 2006, when the stop-logs of the old dam had been removed.
At that point, "there was nothing in the river to stop the fish,"
Bunt said. "We are attempting to prove the fish are swimming past the
new dam as if nothing is there as well."
Bunt didn't gather fish last year, because the dam was being built. The results for this spring are not in yet.
"There do appear to be some differences from 2006 and there appears to be some delay," he said.
But Bunt suspects that has less to do with the new dam than the altering of the river channel by the construction work itself.
"The main channel from 2006 has been altered. I don't think there is a throughway for the fish yet."
The river will carve out a throughway, he added.
The results of the study, costing about $40,000 each year, will
determine when the city closes the dam in spring and allows the river
upstream to rise, Donnelly said.
"June 15 is the new rule of the thumb, but the research will refine that date."
A River: What Next for the Thames? (Dec. 6, 2008)
Thames River experts express their wishes for the future of the river following a brainstorming session at the Free Press.
A River: Thames Public Meeting (Nov. 22, 2008)
The City of London is planning a public meeting to help decide the future of the Thames River and its relationship with London.
A River: Old Man River (Nov. 15, 2008)
Stew Simpson, who has spent his life on the Thames River, shares his perspective on the waterway.
A River: Thames Heritage River Tree (Nov. 15, 2008)
Thames Heritage River Tree, which London artist Paul Cottle has been
carving since March, nears completion and may be featured at the 2010
Olympics in Vancouver.
Toy Boat Tour
View all 22 espisodes of the ride down the Thames River.
Bridge backs up traffic (Jul. 11, 2009)
-- It took nearly two hours yesterday to correct an electrical problem
on the Parry Bridge on Keil Dr., which failed to close after its two
centre sections were raised to allow two pleasure boats to make it
upstream on the Thames River.
SPECIAL REPORT: A river ran through it (Jul. 4, 2009)
aren't the same on the stretch of the Thames River from the forks in
downtown London to Springbank Dam -- not since the dam became
inoperable last summer. Where deep waters used to flow -- a haven for
canoeists and kayakers - weeds grow from dry riverbed and deer migrate
to new neighbourhoods. A good thing or a bad thing? There's plenty of
opinion to go around, writes Free Press reporter Randy Richmond.
Input on river plan sought (Jun. 15, 2009)
wide-ranging report on the Thames River makes more than 75
recommendations and identifies hundreds of features to guide the future
of the city's natural, historical and cultural spine.
Canoe Club falls victim to dam failure (May. 6, 2009)
London Canoe Club may become the first casualty of city hall's
$5-million lawsuit against the designers and builders of the flawed
Dam repairs may be years away (May. 5, 2009)
will forego a working Springbank dam for at least two more years - and
potentially far longer - unless the city settles its $5-million lawsuit
against firms who designed and built it.
SPECIAL REPORT: Fix it or deep-six it? (Apr. 18, 2009)
costs of repairing a new but defective Springbank Dam in the millions
of dollars and rising, the debate over whether the structure should
even exist has resurfaced. Free Press reporter Randy Richmond lays out
the positions of the dam's proponents and opponents.
City keeps report secret (Apr. 17, 2009)
hall won't disclose to taxpayers a report that details what officials
think went wrong at Springbank Dam, even though those findings will be
shared with engineering firms sued by the city.
Cost to fix dam totals $4.5M (Apr. 16, 2009)
city hall says $4.5 million needs to be spent to correct defects that
disabled one gate at Springbank Dam and also threaten the other three
POV: Step in right direction on Springbank Dam (Apr. 16, 2009)
the long, arduous, and recently tortuous history of the Springbank Dam,
it's difficult to ignore the possibility nature might be trying to send
us all a message, and a not particularly new one at that.
City files $5.5M lawsuit (Apr. 15, 2009)
London is suing the consulting engineers, designers and builders of the broken Springbank Dam for $5.5 million.
Canoe club seeks fast fix to stay alive (Apr. 6, 2009)
about another summer without paddling, the London Canoe Club is
pitching a novel way to dam the Thames River -- a giant wormlike tube
filled with water.
A River: Toy Boat Tour, Part 2
Reporter Randy Richmond launches a toy boat on the south branch of the
Thames. This week: Managing Editor Joe Ruscitti talks about why the
paper is focusing a seasonal series on the river.
A River: Toy Boat Tour, Part 3
The toy boat makes its way through Woodstock. This week: Matt
Williamson, the teen who took it upon himself to clean-up a section of
the Thames, talks about making a difference.
A River: Toy Boat Tour, Part 4
The toy boat floats through Mitchell and St.Mary's. This week:
St.Mary's Museum curator Mary Smith talks about what the river has
meant to her community.
A River: Toy Boat Tour, Part 5
The toy boat winds its way through Beachville and Ingersoll. This week:
fly fisherman Jay Newell shares his perspective on the Thames River.
A River: Toy Boat Tour, Part 9
The toy boat on the south branch of the Thames goes over Hunt Dam. This
week: Cathy Reeves of the UTRCA talks about the more than 200 barriers
found throughout the watershed.
A River: Toy Boat Tour, Part 12
The black toy boat makes its way down the north branch of the Thames.
This week: London poet and writer Penn Kemp talks about the literary
implications of the river.
A River: Toy Boat Tour, Part 13
The black toy boat approaches the Forks on the north branch of the
Thames. This week: engineer Slobodan Simonovic talks about the
potential for another massive flood in London.
A River: Toy Boat Tour, Part 14
The two toy boats meet at the Forks of the Thames. This week: Kevin
Bice the London artist who conceived and organized the artbook "The
A River: Toy Boat Tour, Part 15
The toy boats float by Greenway Pollution Plant. This week: John
Fitzgerald, Division Manager for the City of London's pollution control
operations, talks about keeping the Thames clean.
A River: Toy Boat Tour, Part 16
The toy boats approach faulty Springbank Dam. This week: London Rowing
Club President Meredith Smith talks about the problems the dam has
created for rowers.
A River: Toy Boat Tour, Part 17
The toy boats leave London and float through Komoka Provincial Park.
This week: Anita Caveney of the McIlwraith Naturalists talks about her
efforts to protect the species of Komoka Park.
A River: Toy Boat Tour, Part 18
The toy boats float through Delaware and the Chippewas of the Thames
First Nation. This week: Jode Kechego talks about what the Thames means
to his people.