Salmon eggs and fish tanks are both part of the learning process in Washington State schools. The Salmon in Schools project not only teaches kids about the salmon lifecycle, but also about environmental stewardship. EarthFix’s Ashley Ahearn reports.
GELELRMAN: Salmon eggs hatch in rivers and then the fish spend a good part of their lives in the open ocean bulking up and swimming in schools before making the trip back upstream to spawn. But for some small fries, in Seattle, there’s another step in the schooling process when they get a real education and give one, as well. Producer Ashley Ahearn of the public media collaborative EarthFix has our report.
AHEARN: The students at Viewlands Elementary School in northwest Seattle have some interesting guests this winter.
LARSEN: I like coming down here because it’s kind of fun to see how much they’ve grown each day.
AHEARN: Gabby Larsen is in fifth grade. She and her classmate Mahala Mrozek are standing in front of an aquarium in the hallway of their school. At the bottom of the tank, round red salmon eggs clump and cluster together. Soon these eggs will hatch. Mahala describes what happened last year.
MROZEK: It was really cool because when you first hatch, they still look like the egg except that their head and tail are out because they still have the sack and they use the food inside of it for their first week or two and then it finally goes away and they start looking like fish.
AHEARN: Viewlands Elementary is one of about 500 schools in Washington involved with the Salmon in Schools program. The program lost state funding late last year but Seattle Public Utilities came up with the money to keep it afloat in 2012.
The eggs in this tank were donated by the Suquamish Tribe. Now, Mahala and Gabby test the water temperature every day to make sure it’s a salmon-friendly 45 degrees. It’s a big responsibility, but in the process they’re learning.
MROZEK: Well, they’re kind of interesting, the way that they go through their lifecycle.
LARSEN: And the salmon, they can go through sea and stuff like that, and then they come back and they lay their eggs exactly where they were born. I think it’s because, maybe because they want their child to grow up to be like them.
AHEARN: Mahala explains that she and Gabby will watch over the hatchlings until they’re about two inches long.
MROZEK: Because that’s when they’re big enough to start heading down for the ocean for the first time. So we’ll release them when all the other salmon children are also going; that way they’ll be with other salmon and they’ll go into the ocean and then they’ll come back.
[SOUND OF WATER RUNNING, WALKING SOUNDS ON GRAVEL]
HAGAN: Water comes down…
[SOUND OF GATE CLANKING]
AHEARN: Bill Hagan is a salmon steward at Carkeek Park, right around the corner from Viewlands Elementary. He’s standing next to the large tank where Gabby and Mahala’s juvenile salmon will be held before he releases them into the nearby creek.
Salmon survival rates in urban streams in Puget Sound are low. In some places 80 percent of them die before spawning. Hagan says the salmon that are hatched in schools like Viewlands are not a solution to that problem.
HAGAN: I see this program as an educational program. Some say it’s a stock supplement but really, you know, the amount of fish we get back isn’t going to build a big stock here.
AHEARN: Only a handful of those eggs from Viewlands will survive to adulthood once they’re released.
[FOOTSTEPS ON GRAVEL: “LETS WALK THIS WAY HERE”]
AHEARN: Most weekends you’ll find Hagan walking along Piper’s Creek, here in Carkeek Park. As a salmon steward, his job is to educate visitors about these fish.
HAGAN: I was talking to this group of people at the viewpoint here and I got into my spiel a little bit and all of a sudden this eight/nine year old girl standing alongside me with her mother, she just stepped right in and finished the whole process. And I looked at her and her mother looked at her and her mother said, ‘where did you get that?’ So remember that in school, we had all those fish at school? But she learned that, and she remembered it coming back. And her mother was just as surprised as I was. (LAUGHS)
AHEARN: Next year, Gabby and Mahala will leave elementary school and head into the open waters of middle school. Gabby says ‘who knows? Maybe they’ll see these salmon again someday.’
LARSEN: Maybe when we’re in like, seventh grade we’re going to go, ‘hey that’s that salmon that we raised in fifth grade.’
MROZEK: You wouldn’t really know how to tell though, so you could be pointing at some random salmon and then say ‘I raised that salmon!’
AHEARN: I’m Ashley Ahearn in Seattle.
GELLERMAN: Our story on Salmon in Schools comes to us from the public media collaborative EarthFix.
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