Harbor WildWatch teaches students about salmon

January 22, 2014 

During sessions with Vaughn Elementary fourth- and fifth-graders who were sponging up information on protecting our Puget Sound waters, it was hard not to be impressed by the intensity with which the kids followed her every word.

Harbor WildWatch naturalist Stephanie McCaffery presented the information.

“Harbor WildWatch does a great job showing how we are connected to our surroundings,” Vaughn teacher Marci Cummings-Cohoe said. “They bring relevant activities to the students that they then can share with their families.”

McCaffery said Harbor WildWatch has not completely implemented the Next Generation Science Standards.

“We are working with Peninsula School District to make sure all of our Harbor Outreach Program meets the new criteria,” she added.

“I have never seen students more excited to learn about science than today at Vaughn Elementary,” McCaffery said. “This is my first time as a guest here, and I am so impressed about how much knowledge the students already have about our native salmon and everyday actions we can take to improve the environment around us.”

Much of the knowledge can be attributed to the leadership of teacher Doug Smith, who has long led a program at Vaughn that teaches students how to raise salmon fingerlings from raw eggs in an aquarium in the school hall, where kids watch their day-by-day development. Each year, the exercise culminates with kids carefully releasing the wee fish into Vaughn Creek to begin their journey to the ocean.

Smith credited McCaffery with a great presentation.

“It ties in well to what we are learning, reading and studying about salmon and raising them in our salmon tank,” he said. “The (state) Department of Fish and Wildlife allows me to get salmon eggs from Minter Creek Fish Hatchery; they are now in our tank. In February, we will release the fingerlings.”

Jack Timmons, one of Smith’s students, said he learned how to use his hand to remember the different types of salmon.

“The thumb is for chum, pointer finger for Sockeye, middle finger for Chinook or King salmon, ring finger for Coho or Silver, and the pinkie for Pinkies,” he said.

Classmate Danny Anderson learned that otters and eagles are predators of salmon, and many people help salmon.

“If something walks in a creek, that dirt could cover the salmon’s eggs and suffocate them,” Madalyn Varner said.

She also knows you can see the salmon’s eyes inside the egg.

Shannon Bundrick learned a salmon’s nest is called a redd because the salmon’s eggs are red. She also learned salmon can grow fangs that they use to protect their redd.

“Out of 3,000 eggs,” Bundrick said, “only five will make it back to spawn or lay eggs.”

Gage Gehrke learned that when smolt go to the ocean, their kidneys change so they can live in saltwater. They live in freshwater for the first year of their lives.

Ben Denney said he’s amazed salmon can swim to Japan and back again. He wants to protect them.

Cayla McDermott learned the salmon’s lifecycle as she made her bracelet.

“First, they are eggs,” she said. “Then, when they hatch, they are called alevins, and they have their yolk sac on their chest. When that goes away, they are called fry or fingerlings. After a year in the creek, they go to the ocean, and they are called smolts. They live in the estuary as they get used to saltwater, then go to the ocean and are adults. After one to three years, they return and spawn or lay eggs in a redd in the creek where they were born.”

“Fingerlings have parr marks that help camouflage them in the creek,” Hailee Hutton said. “It is neat that the salmon return to the steam they were born in to lay eggs.”

Christian Stephens thinks salmon are smart.

“Salmon get around by going up a fish ladder,” he said.

Rachel Aspee learned from Harbor WildWatch that it’s better to wash your car on a flat surface on the grass with biodegradable soap.

Joseph Blanchard thought it was cool to learn about how the soap and oil from cars goes into the water supply.

Jezzie Riley learned that most things in a classroom were made in a factory.

“It is better for us to buy stuff that is reusable, like water bottles and bags,” Riley said.

“People who pick up trash are helping the environment,” Andrew Pijccoli added. “Pollution can kill salmon.”

And a whole bunch of other living things.

Hugh McMillan is a longtime freelance writer for The Peninsula Gateway. He can be reached at 253-884-3319 or by email at hmcmnp1000@ centurytel.net.

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