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Feature: Victoria Pinheiro

Hi everyone! We’re proud to present Victoria Pinheiro, a Master’s Student at the University of Vermont, as this week’s feature. Tori is currently researching the movement of lake trout and other fish species on Lake Champlain using acoustic telemetry tags to track their whereabouts. Henry and Tori met while conducting oceanographic research with SEA Semester in 2013, and as Tori puts it, “we bonded over our shared love of lizard hunting and our complete ineptitude at lowering the dinghy over the side of the ship. We thought it was hilarious. The captain didn’t.” Henry’s experience with SEA and Tori’s salty tales of sharks and pirates were both big sources of inspiration for With the Winds.

Hello With the Winds supporters!

I’m Tori Pinheiro, a graduate student at UVM. I grew up sailing on Buzzards Bay, was obsessed with my marine biology summer camp (nerd life) and went on to study marine biology at Boston University. In my undergrad years I dabbled in everything: fish, sediments, Belizean mangrove sponges – you name it. My first offshore research project sent me down to the Caribbean to sail with SEA aboard the SSV Corwith Cramer. It was awesome. A year later I joined the crew as a deckhand, which is when I met Henry! I eventually made my way back to the States, graduated college, got a job counting scallops, and visited my sister in Vermont. She taught sailing lessons, and while waiting for her on the shores of Lake Champlain, I noticed the Rubenstein Ecosystem Science Laboratory. I read the blurb about their fisheries research and left a note on the door:

“Dear Rubenstien Lab, Hello! I’m Tori, just graduated with a degree in marine science from BU. I’d love to see the inside of your lab, as my view from this window is limited. Very interested in fisheries topics and know my way around boats.

Please email.

Cheers, Tori”

A day later I got an email, and a day after that I got a lovely tour where we talked about everything from fish to hammocking. The tour ended with the following question: “So, do you want to do a funded masters degree here?”

Bam. #Academia.

So! Now, on to what you’ve all been waiting for: I use acoustic telemetry to study the movements of several fish species. To do that, I surgically implanted ~130 lake trout, walleye and some sturgeon (!!!) with acoustic transmitters: little, battery-sized devices that emit auditory signals. Then, I created a network of listening devices that span the entire lake (it’s a big lake, check out the receiver map here). These acoustic receivers listen for the signals that the transmitters emit. If a receiver picks up a signal, I know the fish was nearby (~100 m). Using this information, I can answer tons of different questions: Walleye swim around a lot…do walleye move between basins in Lake Champlain? How are they affected by aquatic habitat fragmentation? Lake trout are having trouble with producing viable young, so what do they do during the spawning season? Do they stay on one spawning site or do they move around? Do they return to the same site year after year? How about endangered sturgeon? We know where they spawn in rivers…but what do they do for the rest of the year? Where do they hang out and eat? Answers to all of these questions are extremely important to fisheries managers and are really effing cool.

But hanging out with fish is the best part of this research. Fish are great. In this line of work, many people end up counting and measuring thousands of fish, and they become little more than numbers on a spreadsheet. For me, each fish is an immensely valuable bundle of information and a unique individual. Sedating and doing surgery on a fish is a very delicate business. In the big picture, I want to learn as much about each species as possible to resolve ecological issues. But in the moment, when I’m in the field conducting surgery on trout, my whole purpose suddenly becomes to make sure each individual experiences as little pain as possible and goes on to continue doing trout things.

If you want to learn more, visit the Champlain Acoustic Telemetry Observation System website. Or if you’re in a rush, watch the awesome video below that gives you a glimpse into a day in the life of an acoustic telemetry researcher.

Thanks to Henry and Grant at With the Winds for giving me the opportunity to share my work with you guys, and many thanks to you all for reading!

Cheers, Tori

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