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Lake Effect: The importance of Great Salt Lake's brine shrimp

On one side, a person's shoulder and face are seen close up. Past him is a boat on Great Salt Lake.
Utah Division of Wildlife Resources

My name is John Luft. I'm the Great Salt Lake Ecosystem Program Manager. The Ecosystem Program basically manages the brine shrimp fishery on Great Salt Lake, as well as oversees all of the waterfowl management areas that are around Great Salt Lake. I always mention that we're basically sea monkey biologists.

I don't get out as much as I used to, but the rest of the crew spends their time trying to understand what the brine shrimp population is doing, and how it relates to the birds. You have over half of the entire population of eared grebes here at Great Salt Lake. So they spend a good portion of the fall, and part of the winter here feeding exclusively on brine shrimp.

I can't remember a time in the last two decades where brine shrimp companies haven't harvested over 20 million pounds out on Great Salt Lake. So it's a pretty important economic boon for the state. And it actually contributes to the global market of brine shrimp.

People always equate Great Salt Lake to a big bathtub, when in fact, a probably more apt description is it's like a giant dinner plate. It is really, really shallow. And so, just navigation on Great Salt Lake is going to be increasingly more difficult and risky. I've been stuck on the lake a jillion times, I’ve been lost out there at night, submarined an airboat at one time.

One of the students that worked on the project, we were out, I want to say it was like February, so nobody else would be out there. And the alternator fell off of the airboat. I couldn't get cell reception, and I'm like, what are we going to do?

We had a bunch of duck decoys and I cut the decoy lines off, and I tied this alternator on and he's like that's not going to work, you can't tie that on with a rope! And I was like, well, I don't know what else to do. And we're out in the middle of here, it would take us I don't know how many hours to walk out of here. Anyway, I said well let's see if we can give it a try. And so I started up the engine, and I was like let's just see how far we can get. We made it all the way back and he's like I can't believe that you were able to limp this thing all the way back in.

Aimee Van Tatenhove is a science reporter at UPR. She spends most of her time interviewing people doing interesting research in Utah and writing stories about wildlife, new technologies and local happenings. She is also a PhD student at Utah State University, studying white pelicans in the Great Salt Lake, so she thinks about birds a lot! She also loves fishing, skiing, baking, and gardening when she has a little free time.
Ellis Juhlin is a science reporter here at Utah Public Radio and a Master's Student at Utah State. She studies Ferruginous Hawk nestlings and the factors that influence their health. She loves our natural world and being part of wildlife research. Now, getting to communicate that kind of research to the UPR listeners through this position makes her love what she does even more. In her free time, you can find her outside on a trail with her partner Matt and her goofy pups Dodger and Finley. They love living in a place where there are year-round adventures to be had!