Great Salt Lake - From Birds to Brine Shrimp

June 28, 2022



Photographer: Ray Boren

Summary Author: Ray Boren & Kerry Evans

Great Salt Lake has been described as “America’s Dead Sea,” echoing the name given its counterpart in the Middle East’s Jordan Rift Valley. Although contrary to this moniker, the vast Utah basin supports an array of life. As illustrated in the first photograph above, taken on February 3, 2022, birds can throng both the lake’s extra-saline waters and the fresh-water wetlands along its shores, which are part of an inland route of the migratory Pacific Flyway.

The waterfowl in the photo, mostly Northern Shoveler ducks (Spatula clypeata), have gathered near a bridge opening along a causeway that links communities on “the mainland” to Antelope Island State Park, which occupies Great Salt Lake’s largest island. Waters otherwise divided by the causeway flow and mingle at this spot. Fish cannot thrive in the lake’s super-salty bays, but brine shrimp (Artemia franciscana) can prosper. Park rangers say birds feed upon the tiny crustaceans while pausing and resting during long journeys, often stretching from South and Central America to the Arctic. Shown in the second photo, from Aug. 13, 2021, brine shrimp navigate an aquarium in the state park’s visitor center. The frilly shrimp, less than 0.5 inches long (1.25 centimeters), thrive in water with a salinity ranging from 3 to 33 percent, according to the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.

The North American Southwest is experiencing a multi-decade “megadrought,” recently deemed the worst in 1,200 years. As a result of these conditions, in addition to human diversion and use of its tributaries, Great Salt Lake is recording historic low water levels. This decline, ecologists note, is endangering the inland sea’s invertebrates and wetland vegetation — food sources that an estimated 10 million migrating and nesting waterfowl and shorebirds, representing 250 species, depend upon.

Photo details: NIKON D3200, (first image) f/8, 1/250 second exposure, ISO-100, focal length: 380mm, (second photo) f/5.6, 1/125 second exposure, ISO-125, focal length: 55mm


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