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Spotted Seatrout Continued to Spawn During and After Hurricane Harvey

Researchers recovered audio recordings of the fish’s mating calls in the eye of the storm.

Nov 16, 2018
Jef Akst

ABOVE: WIKIMEDIA, RAVER DUANE, US FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE

In August of 2017, as Hurricane Harvey crashed into the Gulf coast as a category 4 storm, spotted seatrout (Cynoscion nebulosus) kept right on reproducing, according to a study published this month (November 7) in Biology Letters. Underwater audio recordings of the fish’s mating grunts and pulses revealed spawning activity not only during the days before and after the storm made landfall, but also as the eye passed over. It’s even possible that the fish continued to reproduce in the midst of the wind and rain, which caused so much noise in the recordings that the researchers couldn’t hear anything else.

“Their urge to reproduce, or that inclination, is so strong that not even a hurricane can stop them,” coauthor Christopher Biggs, a graduate student at the University of Texas at Austin, tells The New York Times.

Biggs was away at a conference when it became clear that Harvey was headed for the area of the Gulf of Mexico where he and his colleagues had deployed underwater microphones at 15 seatrout spawning grounds in April 2017. He hurried home to retrieve his equipment, but only got about half of them before having to evacuate, the Times reports. Of the ones that remained, two survived the storm, allowing the researchers to listen in on the spawning activity that occurred as Harvey passed through.

See “How Animals and Plants Weather Hurricanes

“That was completely surprising when you consider the total destruction on land,” Biggs tells the Times. “You would think if they felt their environment getting that disrupted, they would just go somewhere else, but yet they were still hunkered down right in the same spots that they had been before.”

The fish’s behavior wasn’t completely unaffected. For five days after the hurricane had passed, the seatrout spawned a couple of hours earlier in the day. Then, they reverted to their pre-storm schedule. The researchers speculate that this shift may have been governed by changes in the water’s temperature.

See “Biology Labs Hit by Harvey’s Eye Face Long Road to Recovery

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