What do salmon eggs look like as they develop into fry? What is the largest fish in the world? What happens to water when it enters a storm drain? How could climate change affect fish? Whether you’re five or 55, you’ll want to know the answers to these questions. We’ve provided that and in our 15-episode Classroom Hatchery TV series.
Due to the challenges of COVID-19, our classroom hatchery program went entirely virtual, and so, for the last five months, hundreds of kids and adults from across Ontario have been watching and learning about Atlantic Salmon, a species extirpated from Lake Ontario in 1898. Our Educator, Ben Teskey, outlined the structure of the program in an earlier OFAH Insider post and details about the program’s background can be found at www.bringbackthesalmon.ca.
Based out of the OFAH|Mario Cortellucci Hunting and Fishing Heritage Centre, Classroom Hatchery TV, hosted by Ben, shared the development of 200 Atlantic Salmon eggs into fry, taught fishy facts from our Fitzsimons Financial Group Inc. winter intern, Jonny Néné, and heard from our partner organizations on topics ranging from climate change, biodiversity, and energy to watershed health, invasive species, habitat requirements, life cycle, and species identification. These videos have been watched over 3,000 times with supporting activities downloaded more than 4,300 times and grade-specific lesson plans downloaded over 3,200 times. Our main message within it all: Atlantic Salmon were lost from Lake Ontario due to human actions, and everyone can contribute to bringing them back through habitat restoration and protection (such as tree planting and garbage clean-ups) and advocating for watershed health by becoming engaged citizens of their communities.
The young Atlantic Salmon, however, were clearly the stars of the show. They were raised in two tanks: one at 4°C, and one at 8°C. These fish all had the same parents; the only difference between the two tanks was temperature, which is the main external factor that affects fish growth. Each week, you can see the difference that four degrees Celsius makes, as the warmer tank hatched sooner, the yolk sacs were used up faster, and those fish became active looking for food. By May, they were being fed twice a day, with some individuals clearly hogging the food. Does that sound like any siblings you know? In contrast, the fish in the cooler tank, still had their yolk sacs and were hiding in the gravel. Normally in classrooms, we keep the tanks at 4°C to eliminate the requirement of feeding the fish, a situation that mimics what’s happening in the streams.
And the kids soon realize that these are not pet store aquaria. These fish don’t swim around with gaudy tails for our amusement. These are wild fish meant for species restoration, and so the setup mimics the natural stream environment, where it’s dark and cold, with no food, and instinct tells the fish to hide because everything wants to eat them. Until release day: in week 15’s episode, after all the care that went into keeping the fish healthy, you see the fish released into two of our restoration streams – Duffins Creek and Cobourg Creek – where, with a little luck, they will return as adults in three-to-five years.
We hope that all those who watched these young Atlantic Salmon develop and grow will reflect on the journey these fish must now undertake to survive and have a new appreciation and respect for the aquatic environment and all the fish, invertebrate, amphibian, reptile, and mammal species that depend on it – including us. If you won’t steward this amazing biodiversity, who will?
While the 2021 classroom hatchery program is over, the video episodes are still available for anyone to watch, as are the associated weekly activities, and lesson plans for grades 1-8, so you can catch up now! You can find all these resources here. The program is sponsored by Ontario Power Generation and the classroom hatcheries are currently funded by the Ontario Trillium Foundation.