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The Salmon Cannon: Catapulting Fish and People's Dreams Into The Future

Humans have interrupted a lot of natural processes. Highways divide forests, and dams interrupt the migration routes for fish. But that isn't to say that we haven't found solutions to some of the problems that we created. Wildlife bridges have been built over highways allow animals to cross the highway safely. And in a recent Twitter storm, the public has rediscovered an amazing apparatus that scientists released in 2014 which helps salmon migrate. It is called the Salmon Cannon. And as you can imagine, everyone is obsessed with it. 

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  • a single salmon fish jumping upstream in churning water
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    Lets start with the basics. Salmon, also known as trout, are a type of fish that are anadromous, which means they migrate to feed and reproduce. Most salmon are born in fresh water, swim to the ocean, then return to fresh water to reproduce. The last stage of this process is called a salmon run, when the fish swim upstream in rivers to lay eggs on the gravel beds where they were born (using an invisible compass called magnetoreception). Once they lay their eggs, the salmon die off and the process begins again. 

    This all sounds pretty normal, right? There's one tiny detail I forgot to mention. Because of our hubris/desire to interrupt nature's processes/need for irrigation/whatever, humans have built dams all over the place. Sure, they can be useful for some things but they're a big pain in the a** for the salmon who are trying to swim to their gravelly breeding ground. Yes, salmon can jump, but not over a dam(n) wall. 

    But instead of letting a whole species die off (which we seem to be pretty talented at doing) the peeps over at Whooshh Innovations came up with a better idea: the Salmon Cannon. 


  • a man feeding a salmon fish into the salmon cannon tube
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    The Salmon Cannon, also known as the fish tube to the plebs of the internet, is a contraption that works in the following way: the fish swim into the sorting area (in older videos, people are seen lifting fish into the tube), they are scanned and photographed, and directed into the right tube. They are then propelled forward by the pressure of the tube gently tightening behind the fish, creating a seal or vacuum through the misted and frictionless tube, as explained by Whooshh CEO Vincent Bryan. Within a few seconds, the fish travel a few hundred meters and are plopped into the river where they belong. It's as easy as that. (And no, humans can't be transported like this. Yet.) 


  • three fish jumping upwards against the current in a fish ladder
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    Via Youtube

    The Salmon Cannon was created in replacement of the fish ladder. Fish ladders allow fish to pass obstructions to their gravelly lovebeds by jumping up a series of low steps into the water on the other side. As the water is flowing downstream, the fish must swim and jump against the direction of the current, meaning that the water has to be at the right velocity, otherwise its power will wash the fish away. Fish ladders first appeared around the 17th century, although they were never truly effective, with only 3% of salmon in the US reaching their destination via fish ladders. 


  • salmon coming out of the end of the salmon cannon into water
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    Via Geek

    The Salmon Cannon is the future of the fish ladder. It can process 40 fish of different sizes per minute, which comes to 57,600 fish per day. Aside from being more effective, it's also much less harmful to the fish than fish ladders. And it costs 80% less than fish ladders to install. 

    But perhaps the most amazing thing about the Salmon Cannon is the public's reaction to it. It's pretty hard to believe that this many people can get that excited about new(ish) way to help salmon migrate. But I can believe that denizens of the internet will get excited/obsessive over anything (I'm looking at you, 30-50 feral hogs). 



  • salmon cannon seen from far away going over a dam wall
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    Via CNN

    A lot has changed since 2014, when the Salmon Canon was first introduced to the public. The way I remember it, people went outside and did things. Talked to people. Now they're all inside, staring at their screens and writing surprisingly funny tweets about the Salmon Cannon. But I don't blame them. There isn't much going on outside except climate change


  • man putting big salmon into tube of salmon cannon
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    What more can be said about the Salmon Cannon? It's more than innovation. It's a movement. A feeling. It's a hashtag on Twitter. The Salmon Cannon is a message from humans to the natural world, saying "We know we f*cked up, but we're trying to make it better." The Salmon Cannon is hope. 

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