During April 2019 I took part in a university placement with the European SAMARCH project, which involved cataloguing the scale samples collected from thousands of different Atlantic salmon collected since the 1950’s! The cataloguing started with procuring the samples that were listed on a database that were required for Cecile Trehin, who is a PHD student investigating the response of migratory salmonid populations to global changes. Salmonid populations have seen a massive decline since the 1970’s including a decrease in average size, maturity and fecundity of specimens returning to our rivers to breed. This investigation should reveal whether there is a common factor in the marine environment shared by the specimens that is causing this species decline.
Each salmon scale sample was contained in an envelope with scales from a single specimen and was labelled with that individual fish’s characteristics such as weight, age, length, sample number and date caught etc. The sample numbers were in the database which meant I could locate the archived specimens easily. 1500 samples were required for the thesis, and this took five days to locate all the specimens I could find and another two days quadruple checking we had all we could find. Luckily most of the specimens were found with an exception of a few, however, this was not a problem as we had already collected enough specimens for the investigation to go forward. I felt very much achieved knowing I had finished this and helped with a scientific project!
After dealing with the 1500 scale samples needed for Cecile Trehin, our next endeavour involved cataloguing as many samples as possible from the archived scale samples that had been kept at the River Laboratory (Wareham, UK). This involved 19000 specimens that had been collected since the 1950’s until present day. Our job was to enter the data from the specimens into an unfinished database so that the length, weight and any other useful information of these specimens was recorded. This task was more cryptic than the last, as it involved reading the information from old samples that had experienced some wear and tear over the years, which made getting the information almost impossible at times. With this predicament we still persevered and did our best to enter as much information into the database that we could find.
It was another two weeks of data cataloguing before I had finished my work experience placement at the River Lab. I feel this has been a rewarding experience for myself and I have learnt much about collecting data for scientific investigation. This opportunity also gave me a chance to liaise with other researchers working in their scientific fields and gain knowledge about the work they do in similar projects. I feel I have opened a doorway for my own future endeavours such as completing more placement hours and potentially applying to do my final year dissertation here. This is an excellent opportunity for anyone interested in a project that collaborates internationally with other countries, and to gain valuable experience in ecology or similar specialities.