New news from the Alabama HellbenderInitiative!
Remember, the first phase of the initiative is to accumulate recent, unverified reports of hellbenders found in Alabama, as well as unverified sight records, to guide our surveys for the coming year. For a full description of the Alabama Hellender Initiative, see the ALAPARC website: alaparc.org
Due mostly to the efforts of ALAPARC members Eric Soerhen and George Cline, we rounded up three recent hellbender records for which we have documentation. Eric reached out to aquatic ecologists and malacologists who do surveys in north Alabama, and one of them had a photograph of a hellbender found alive in Madison County in 1999.
George Cline was contacted by folks at the Dismals Canyon preserve in 2006, who had found a dead hellbender in the canyon. We have a photo of this animal, although unfortunately at this time we have been unable to get any of the specifics about when and where in the canyon it was collected.
Therefore, the 2004 Lauderdale County specimen we received from Tom Haggerty of the University of North Alabama gets the distinction of being the most recent hellbender documented in Alabama. This specimen was also found dead.
All of these vouchers (two photo vouchers and the Lauderdale County specimen) are now secure in the Auburn University Herpetological Collections.
Although it is a bit disconcerting that the latest two hellbenders encountered in Alabama were found dead, this at least gives the project hope that we will find hellbenders in the state (up until now, the most recent hellbender known was found in 1990!). This also certainly increases the chances that we will find a healthy population. Blog readers, be sure to send along any information on recent hellbenders encountered in Alabama to hellbenders.org.
The next phase of the initiative is set to begin this spring. We have applied for the Jennifer Elwood hellbender research grant, and hope to receive funds for the construction of traps and educational materials to be distributed in north Alabama bait shops and fishing spots. Survey crews are forming and gearing up, with UNA scientists interested in covering the nice streams north of their base of operations, Bill Sutton and friends covering the Huntsville area, Jimmy and Sierra Stiles hitting streams throughout N. Alabama, Eric Soerhen covering a nice shoal he has a good feeling about, and the Auburn group, headed by Sean Graham, heading to Dismals Canyon and the Bear Creek drainage.
Stay tuned for the spring results!