SALIDA, Colo. (KDVR) – A species long thought extinct may be emerging from Colorado’s waterways again, proving that “zombie” isn’t a term that can only be applied to resuscitation human.
In recent years, the Greenback and San Juan River cutthroat trout species that have been declared extinct have been discovered in various bodies of water by Colorado parks and wildlife officials.
Now, with these revelations in mind, CPW officials are wondering if any other species on this long-extinct animal list might still be with us.
The potential existence of the extinct yellowfin cutthroat trout, a breed of fish that was discovered in July 1889 by David Starr Jordan and GR Fisher in Twin Lakes near Leadville, is now being investigated by wildlife experts across Centennial State.
Three of these people have taken this brainstorming one step further and are now leading the mission to put the yellowfin cutthroat trout on the zombie fish list, which consists of species that have returned from extinction.
Searching for yellowfin cutthroat trout
“The search for yellowfin tuna is fulfilling CPW’s core mission to perpetuate the state’s wildlife resources,” said CPW’s Paul Foutz. “Based on our recent discoveries of hidden cutthroats from Greenback and San Luis, we’d be remiss if we weren’t looking for yellowfin tuna.”
Over the next few summers, CPW Aquatic Biologist Alex Townsend, CPW Southeast Region Senior Aquatic Biologist Paul Foutz, and CPW Retired Aquatic Biologist Greg Policky will scour the Arkansas River Basin in search of of the only species of trout that used to be there.
CPW said the area has a large number of streams, lakes, ravines and other water bodies that were barely sampled or not sampled at all. With the help of a team of aquatic biology technicians, Policky and Townsend began sampling near Twin Lakes this month.
“It’s a very exciting opportunity to explore these uncharted waters in search of yellowfin tuna,” Policky said. “I have dedicated my career to learning all about these fish and I am honored to be part of the CPW team conducting this research.”
Through the use of electrofish, nets and the simple hook and line method, crews will obtain tissue samples from the trout they find there to analyze their genetic makeup to see if it matches that of yellowfin cutthroat trout.
Sampling planned for the following summers of 2023, 2024 and 2025 will all be carried out by a separate team so that they can collect stand-alone data that is not influenced by this year’s results.
The History of the Yellowfin Cutthroat Trout
Yellowfins, according to their initial discoverer David Starr Jordan, averaged 10 to 12 pounds and were generally lake specialists.
Propagated at Leadville National Fish Hatchery between 1892 and 1905, yellowfin tuna were transferred to Colorado lakes. Something that may have led to the disappearance of yellowfin tuna was the introduction of non-native fish that may have interbred and diluted the lineage of the now presumed extinct species.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, between 1889 and 1925, more than 50 million cutthroat trout from the Gunnison Basin and White River were brought to Colorado lakes. Additionally, from 1914 to 1925, the state fisheries commission introduced 26 million cutthroats into state waterways.
Today, one of seven original yellowfin tuna specimens found by Jordan and Everman in 1889 is in the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in the nation’s Capitol.
Wildlife enthusiasts around the world are waiting to see if Townsend, Policky and Foutz’s announced efforts with CPW will find this specimen’s ancestors.
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