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Fish Discovered Living And Breeding In Great Salt Lake

August 8, 1986 GMT

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) _ Fish have appeared in the Great Salt Lake, which previously was so salty that it was home for only brine shrimp, algae and bacteria, a biologist says.

Mark Rosenfeld, adjunct curator of fishes at the Utah Museum of Natural History, said at least 10,000 rainwater killiefish were observed this week in the lake off Stansbury Island.

Rosenfeld, a fish biologist and geneticist, said Thursday he suspects a native species of fish, the Utah chub, also may have penetrated the lake.

He said the rainwater killiefish, which are about 1 inch long and especially tolerant of salt, may have migrated in small groups from the closest fresh water location - Timpie Springs Wildlife Management Area.

Killiefish were introduced to Timpie Springs in 1959 when they were brought in with bass transplants that later died. Rosenfeld speculated the killiefish recently rode the springs’ currents into the Great Salt Lake and, finding the salinity level tolerable, continued their migration.

″The fish got there (Stansbury Island) in little groups, starting to breed in the lake, with some going farther and farther. A lot we found were under a month old, so they’re breeding right on site,″ he said.

Their chances of surviving appear good. The killiefish have an abundant food supply in brine shrimp eggs that float on the lake’s surface in large drift piles.

Record precipitation has raised the lake 11 feet in four years, to its highest level since record-keeping began. The lake’s salinity, which was 28 percent in the 1960s, now stands at less than 4 percent, compared to the 2 1/2 percent to 3 percent of ocean water.

Rosenfeld said that in the 17th century, the cool wet period dubbed the ″Little Ice Age″ may have raised the lake 5 feet higher than it is now and reduced the salinity level to 1 percent to 2 percent.

″At that time, the lake may even have had trout,″ he added, although no trout fossils have been found.