Feat of Engineering: ‘Salmon Cannon’ Explodes across Internet as Fish Get Free Ride over Dams

(EnviroNews USA Headline News Desk) — Fish are being fired upriver by an innovative “cannon” of sorts, flinging them over manmade obstacles — obstructions that in some cases, have denied salmon their native habitats for nearly a century. And although the “salmon cannon” has been in effect and helping fish since 2011, it launched into viral popularity this past week as video clips of the machine resurged and went viral across the web and on television.

The United States government started halting the flow of h2o on America’s waterways at least as early as the 1820s.  While many U.S. dams have been touted as industrial feats of engineering that stop floods and create reservoirs, water supplies and irrigation possibilities, on the flip-side of the coin, dams submerge forests, wild lands and ecosystems while cutting off downstream flow of vital sediments. Dams have all but stopped some native fish migrations.  While some may argue for the ingenuity of dams, the salmon cannon may be every bit as worthy a marvel.

The crafty mechanism was engineered by Washington-based Whooshh Innovations — a company designed to engineer agricultural solutions.  In fact, according to its website, the now famous salmon cannon was actually born in an apple orchard:

In 2011, while field-testing its fruit harvester to mechanically harvest and sort tree fruit, Whooshh CEO Vincent Bryan III observed helicopters flying overhead with large buckets.  They were moving migratory salmon over a dam… Thinking there had to be a better way to share the water resources, Whooshh began testing their fruit transport tubes on fish.  It worked — and it was the “a-ha” moment that caused the Company to pivot from fruit to fish.

It works by propelling the fish upward by way of a powerful air blower, through a plastic tube that is continuously lubricated with water by a series of misters.  The tube is made from a proprietary plastic that is very smooth and it molds to the body of each fish as it’s transported through.

“From the fish’s perspective, it’s swim in, slide and glide,” said Bryan.

There have been multiple studies conducted on the fish tube, which have consistently demonstrated that the invention causes “little to no stress” on the fish. According to the Spokesman-Review, some research indicates “the system saves the salmon so much energy that they are more likely to survive the long swim back to their spawning grounds.”

Some dams are built with fish ladders, but many are not.  Dams without these devices, “like Chief Joseph and Grand Coulee, are 100% deadly,” according to the Spokesman-Review.  Fish ladders, while they do pave a way over dams, have been deemed a “failure” by multiple scientific parties, with a 2011 study showing that in one species, “less than three percent” of the fish were actually able to traverse dams via the ladders.

The multiple species of salmon in America represent some of the country’s most iconic aquatic creatures, in addition to providing citizens with a substantial source of protein-rich food.  However, wild salmon populations are being crushed by a multitude of environmental factors.  Climate change, pollution, overfishing, and certainly dams, are all placing undue stress on these stellar swimmers.  With fish cannons, perhaps humanity can begin to ease the burden placed on salmon by dams.

Several prominent television hosts caught notice this past week and did their best to raise awareness of the cannons too.  Even late night sensation Steven Colbert got in on the action.

John Oliver, Host of Last Week Tonight With John Oliver, may have been the first TV celebrity to catch notice when he did a segment back in 2014.

“In your darkest moments of despair, when you see a world torn apart by war,” Oliver said, “I want you to remember that video and think: we can do great things.”

With all the stress humans are placing on salmon, perhaps it is time people offered these fish a free ride.

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