As this year's smelt run got underway on P.E.I., Ph.D. student and photographer Sean Landsman was out with his camera to document them.
When it comes to documenting the fish, the two disciplines complement perfectly.
"I'm using these photos to sort of weave a story. The photo doesn't necessarily stand alone by itself, there's always a back story behind each photograph," he said.
Landsman began his Ph.D. in 2013, but started taking photos three years prior, when he was working as a fisheries biologist.
"It really kind of struck with me that you could convey something pretty easily just through a photograph," he said. "They can pull heart strings, they can really be an agent of change, so I like it as a communication medium."
"I will take that in mind when I'm out in the field, thinking about an aspect of my research that could benefit from some visual aid like an interesting photograph."
Landsman's research focuses on rainbow smelt — specifically on whether they can ascend fish ladders.
With his camera, he's particularly interested in capturing males and females schooling together, rainbow smelt bunched up behind some sort of obstruction — and at how other animals are using the rainbow smelt.
To that last point, he's captured animals in the act with a camera trap — similar to a camera a hunter might use.
It's a camera that is hooked up to a motion detector. Any time the detector senses movement, it takes a photo.
"I'm just trying to see what animals are using those smelt when they come into the freshwater habitats in order to try and illustrate how interconnected those terrestrial animals can be to the aquatic resources in the rivers," he said.
He's caught a few raccoons feasting on the fish.
Also caught on camera was a "very healthy barn cat" eating smelt and licking her chops. Landsman believes she belongs to the owner of the property his camera is set up on.
"I'm assuming, without anthropomorphising too much, that she was indeed enjoying a smelt feed of her own," he said.
He also photographed a song sparrow that appeared to be eating smelt eggs — something he said isn't well documented.
"Those eggs would be like a big, high caloric cheeseburger or something for those birds, so packed full of nutrients," he said. "It would be a real burst of energy for that little bird."
Landsman said these recent photos could also become part of a bigger project.
He's hoping to collaborate with another conservation photographer, from Fredericton, to document the migratory fish of Atlantic Canada — including rainbow smelt, alewife (commonly known as gaspereau), stripped bass, sea lamprey and Atlantic salmon.
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