Fraser River White Sturgeon

The South Arm of the Fraser River is a very active shipping channel where tugs, barges, cargo ships and ferries run regular schedules day and night. Where I was staying in Richmond was right across from the river, and it became my inspiration for the maps I want to create for Project 2. The White Sturgeon, a freshwater fish found in the Columbia, Fraser, Sacramento and other Pacific coast watersheds, is unique in that they grow very large and live for up to 150 years. They are a primitive fish and have been in the fossil record for a long time unchanged.

Sturgeon live in the murky, dull brown, sediment rich water of the Fraser.  They have whiskers on their faces called barbels that enable them to sense prey, like eulachon, an oil-rich herring sized fish or salmon. What intrigued me was thinking about how  sturgeon see their landscape? Are they aware of land masses or just banks that rise out of the water? As the Fraser River twists and branches, islands and channels abound in the lower reaches, which is where the current slows and sediment drops out of the water to form new sandbars and islands.

My first sturgeon map is a text-based map that shows hypothetically important areas for sturgeon. I emphasized waterways and gave more map space to river banks and islands. I indicated land masses as dark, unknowable shapes. Salinity changes from fresh water (a pale yellow) to salty water (a bright yellow). I learned that there is a salt front where the river meets the ocean, a sloped face of salt water that moves inland or back out during the tides. Fresh water floats above the salty water, carrying sediment with it, that then eventually is dropped out of the current.

Salt front illustration - click for direct link

Although other sub-species of sturgeon have been found migrating between rivers, the Fraser sub-population has not been recorded yet by HYDRA sensing buoys in the Straight of Georgia, the main body of marine water that the Fraser drains into.

This map takes two of our human mapping techniques, the bird’s eye view and the naming of cities and towns, and converts it to a sturgeon-centric view. One immediate result is that there is no one place that is a center of population, the entire river is their city. In essence, there are shifting neighbourhoods that are populated at different seasons and by different ages of sturgeon.

I’ve been very influenced recently by the writings of Alexander Wilson in The Culture of Nature. He posits that nature includes us, that we share it with everything else on earth and that only through allowing human and non-human species to both exist in the same spaces at the same time, can we live in balance. (Wilson 1998) What I want to show is the map layer that sturgeons see, overlaid on a familiar landscape.


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