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Quantifying mortality and injury susceptibility for two morphologically disparate fishes exposed to simulated turbine blade strike

Abstract

Passage of fishes through hydropower turbines and water pumping stations may cause mortal injury as the result of exposure to blade strike impact. Laboratory trials of simulated blade strike on two morphologically distinct fishes, American eel (Anguilla rostrata) and bluegill sunfish (Lepomis macrochirus) were undertaken to assess injury and mortality rates. We hypothesized that bluegill would have comparable rates of injury and mortality to other laterally compressed fishes while anguilliform American eel would be more resistant to injury. American eel had low observed mortality rates at the highest velocity tested (13.6 m/s), but many fish were observed with vertebral fractures which we categorized as functionally dead individuals. Bluegill were more susceptible to blade strike with high rates of mortality regardless of blade thickness, velocity, or impact conditions (location, angle, or fish orientation). These data have broadened our understanding of the range of responses among entrained fishes exposed to blade strike and represent species with low (American eel) and high (bluegill) susceptibility to injury and mortality. Our blade strike data can help inform safer turbine designs or prioritization of pumps that minimize traumatic injury and mortality of fishes during non-volitional passage through hydropower turbines or water pumping stations.

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Acknowledgements

This research was funded by the US Department of Energy’s Waterpower Program to Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL)/UT-Battelle, LLC under Contract No. DE-AC05-00OR22725. Animal use approval was granted by the ORNL Animal Care and Use Committee [protocol #0444]. Fish used in this study were obtained from Southeastern Pond Management in Jackson, TN, and Delaware Valley Fish Company in, Norristown, PA. Special thanks to Rebecca Brink, Miles Mobley, and Clara Layzer for assistance in the lab and Gary Johnson (Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, PNNL) and Shelaine Curd (ORNL) for project management. Reviews from Brenda Pracheil (ORNL) and Brett Pflugrath (PNNL) strengthened the content of this manuscript.

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Correspondence to Ryan Saylor.

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Saylor, R., Fortner, A. & Bevelhimer, M. Quantifying mortality and injury susceptibility for two morphologically disparate fishes exposed to simulated turbine blade strike. Hydrobiologia 842, 55–75 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10750-019-04026-x

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Keywords

  • Hydropower
  • Entrainment
  • Water pumping stations
  • American eel
  • Bluegill sunfish
  • Passage trauma