Each year, teachers and students at Oak Harbor Elementary choose grade level community-based projects to complete in order to foster a closer connection to the people around us and the environment in which we live. This year, the fourth-grade team has chosen to focus on local watersheds and our native salmon population. This project will increase student awareness of our impact on the environment and the salmon species that thrive in this region. Our fourth-grade community of students will raise salmon eggs to a stage where they can be released into a local watershed this spring. Over the next couple of months, students will learn to assess water quality and make necessary changes to ensure salmon survival and discover what salmon need to thrive and what we can do to encourage their success. Our students will be empowered to take action to protect salmon and their habitat through science-based decision making.
Our salmon babies are doing swimmingly well! They are at the alevin stage of their life cycle right now, which means that they don't need to be fed any additional food yet because they have yolk sacs attached to their stomachs that they absorb nutrients from. Their favorite pastime right now is to lay on the rocks on the bottom of their tank. In order to participate in this statewide project, OHE had to apply and be approved for a permit through the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. The program is called WDFW School Cooperative Program, also known as Salmon/Trout in the Classroom. The site on the south end of the island where the salmon will eventually be released had to be approved by the state as well.
Our tiny salmon babies are still in the alevin stage of their lives, as they are still holding on to their yolk sacs for nourishment. Although we've noticed this week that those sacs are getting smaller, which means they'll soon be moving into the next stage of their life cycle. They are also starting to get a bit more active in their tank, with a few of them darting around instead of just laying in the rocks. Water quality levels for ammonia and nitrites have been good this week, so these salmon are getting just what they need to thrive.
A few of our baby salmon have graduated to the next stage in their life cycle, the fry stage. These fry have lost their yolk sacs and will now need to rely on us to feed them to provide the nourishment that they need to grow. Teachers fed the salmon earlier this week while students were at home doing distance learning, and then Mrs. Lee's class was on duty this week to monitor the tank and continue their care and feeding. Most of the salmon are still in the alevin stage, but it is common for them to develop slightly earlier or later than their tankmates. Our salmon still like to stay huddled together in groups at the bottom of their tank, but more of them are starting to swim around more.
We have a tank full of swimming salmon! They have left their gravel nests. Many have lost their yolk sacs and so are now in the fry stage. We are starting to give them a pinch of food. Their stomachs are about the size of their eyes, so they don’t need much. Mrs. Urban’s class has been caring for the salmon this week. Keeping the ammonia levels low has been our newest challenge. Students tested the water daily, and a few times found that the levels of ammonia were too high, and so we changed the water. This is related to the amount of food that they eat, so testing the water carefully and often will be an important task.
Most of our salmon have now all graduated from alevin to fry and are well on their way to becoming parr. Mrs. Bailey's class was in charge of feeding and testing our ammonia and nitrite levels this week. They did a couple of water changes once our ammonia levels were reading slightly higher, and everything is back down. Occasionally, these levels can increase due to animal waste since these little ones are getting more food these days. We will continue to monitor their water quality closely.
2/19/2021 UpdateWe are a little over halfway through our Salmon in the Classroom project at OHE. Our salmon fry will be starting their adventure in the great outdoors at Maxwelton Creek at the end of March most likely. Right now, they are still happily swimming around the tank in our main hallway and are now being fed twice a day. Water quality continues to be monitored often, and the salmon were being cared for by Ms. Hyneck's class this week. In addition to taking care of the salmon, OHE fourth graders are also participating in other activities in class such as reading about salmon, journaling about their observations, and completing hands-on craft projects to demonstrate their learning about the life cycle of the salmon. We are also beginning to discuss the impact that our actions, both positive and negative, can have on the salmon habitats and watersheds around us.2/26/2021 UpdateOur Coho salmon fry continues to grow and get bigger. Sometimes a stray one will rest along the bottom of the tank, but for the most part, they are busy darting back and forth around their habitat. Mrs. Lee's class cared for the salmon this week, as they are still being fed twice a day by students and the ammonia and nitrite levels are being checked daily. These levels have to be checked often so that we can be sure our salmon have the "4 Cs," which are clear water, clean water, cool water, and consistent water. Did you know that Coho salmon are also known as silver salmon and that they can grow to be up to 16 pounds in weight? That is a big difference from the little fish they are now!3/5/2021 Update
Our salmon fry are all moving into the stage of developing parr marks, which are dark bars across their bodies. In the wild, these marks will help them camouflage and blend into the shadows of the stream. If you look closely at our fish, their bodies are slowly beginning to resemble these markings. Another important part of development at this stage for salmon is also their darting! Many of our fish can be seen darting around the tank preparing their quick, defensive, navigational skills for when they are truly tested in Maxwelton creek later this spring. Good luck fishies!
The Salmon are giving us signs that they are ready to be released into the wild. Fourth-grade teachers will be depositing the salmon into Maxwelton Creek on the south end of the island within the next week. It's been a great experience for the students to track the life cycle of our fish by using their scientific skills to research, observe, make predictions, experiment, and report their findings to the school. We look forward to another project like this in the future.
Our little salmon babies have moved on to the real world! This Wednesday the 4th-grade teachers traveled down to Maxwelton to release the salmon into the stream so they can continue their life cycle in the wild. We enjoyed caring for them as a 4th grade and learned a lot about the salmon life cycle. It was a great learning experience to see them grow through the first part of their lives right in front of us. We also had to problem solve when the nitrate and ammonia in the water were not ideal for our salmon. The students learned how to test for these levels and even helped to research what the problems could be. We wish them the best on their new journey and will miss seeing them in our tank every day!