Fry Feeding Time
It's fitting that the ThinkTank has really sprung to life on the first day of spring. Over the past few days, dozens of salmon fry have been emerging from the gravel and starting to explore their new home.
The variety between the individual fish is pretty remarkable, with some of the coho appearing ghostly white, and others ranging from silver to tan, brown and even black!
Now that the fry are using the last of their yolk salk reserves from their time in the egg, we will begin feeding the young fish a high protein power to help them thrive while they learn to navigate the currents in our miniature stream.
It won't be long before these little fish are big enough to venture out into Goldstream River - we expect our first batches of salmon to return to the river sometime in late April. Watch for details on how your group or company can get involved and join us on release day!
Eggs To Alevin
We're onto exciting times in the ThinkTank - over the course of the last week our batch of coho eggs have all hatched and moved to the alevin stage of their life cycle! The transition didn't come without some concern, though...
Our salmon were well ahead of their expected hatching time, according to the ATU charts we explained when the eggs first arrived at our studio - but it appears that all of the coho delivered this winter are advancing ahead of schedule, and so far our little school is looking healthy and happy.
Now the young fish will spend a couple of weeks hiding out in the gravel bed, consuming their yolk sacks and developing some the crucial organs and scales that will help them survive in the stream environment over the next 12-18 months.
As the temperature outside begins to climb we'll also be slowly increasing the degrees inside our aquarium - and already our natural grasses are showing signs of new growth with spring just around the corner.
By early March our coho should begin to swim up from the rocks and go in search of food, which is when our tank will really come to life!
The eggs in our tank, and all of the Stream To Sea programs across Greater Victoria, came directly from the Goldstream River where each year hundreds of coho, chum and chinook salmon return to spawn.
A few years ago we went behind the scenes with the Goldstream Volunteer Salmonid Enhancement Association at the Howard English Hatchery to create a video for their website. Armed with hip waders, the staff wade into the river each fall to collect salmon of all species to harvest their eggs and milk. While the program raises thousands of fish in their own on-site tanks (as a means to improve the Goldstream stock), they also contribute more than 20,000 eggs to classroom programs across the Island each year.
It's a truly remarkable effort that has helped to maintain and increase the annual salmon run at Goldstream Park and across the Capital Region. The program runs a variety of programs across the city, and is always looking for more volunteers! Check them out online at www.gvsea.com
Soon enough our eggs will be hatching and make their move into the gravel bed to grow and develop as alevin... stay tuned!
Our adventure officially began this week when the salmon eggs arrived at our studio door. Fisheries & Oceans Canada Education Coordinator Don Lowen, who has been guiding us through the entire process, spent the last few days delivering batches to dozens of schools across Greater Victoria - and took a few minutes to explain the process for us (see the video above).
Our little bundle contained 200 coho salmon eggs, most of which were already showing signs of development - including little eyes shining through the translucent shells. There has been some concern about the eggs hatching early due to an unknown stress factor this year, and sure enough one of our little fish broke free within minutes of dipping into our tank. But it appears the rest of the bunch are now settled in for another 2-3 weeks of development before hatching and settling into the gravel bed below.
Now we'll be keeping close track of their progress using an ATU (accumulated temperature unit) chart - in which every degree of water temperature in a 24 hour cycle relates to the approximate hatching time of the eggs. The batch was delivered at 341 ATU, and are expected to hatch about 20-23 days later when they hit 450-475 ATU.
Watch for more updates as the salmon move from eggs to alevin in February!
The process of building the ThinkTank began with A LOT of research - ensuring that we created an environment that would be perfect for the needs of the young salmon, but also for the Roll.Focus. studio space.
With the help of our friends at UsedVictoria.com, we began by locating a 90 gallon tank that would fit nicely into the location we selected for the project. Because the fish spend the first two years of their life cycle in a cold freshwater environment, we also acquired a chiller to keep the tank at a crisp 5 degrees Celsius over the first few months.
From there we made a number of visits to Goldstream Park, Mount Douglas Park and the Colquitz River to observe the gravel, rocks and plants that exist in the salmon's natural environment, and develop a plan to integrate those features into our tank. We also found the root from a fallen tree that would fit perfectly in our tank, adding a fantastic decorative element to the display.
With all of the pieces in place, our next step was to assemble the tank step-by-step. After laying a sand bed for the native plant species to grow in, we placed a layer of gravel and a selection of local river rocks to provide the shelter and substrate the fish require.
Then came the faux-rock background, LED lighting and circulation pumps to simulate the stream environment the young salmon would emerge into. The next step was to fill the tank with treated water, free from any of the toxins, chlorides or heavy metals that may harm the fish in their most vulnerable stage.
With everything in place, the final stage was to leave the tank running for several days, allowing the water to cool and beneficial bacteria to begin to grow, all while keeping a close eye on the chemical conditions of the tank.
One week later we are ready for our batch of coho salmon to arrive, and can't wait to take you along for the ride!
This idea was spawned (get it?) from a video we produced for the Goldstream Hatchery in 2013, where we had the chance to witness first-hand the work volunteers are doing to revitalize the chum, coho and chinook salmon populations in our local waterways. Ever since working with their team, and other wildlife partners like Eagle Wing Tours and Swan Lake Nature House, we knew it would be important to play our part in supporting ecological initiatives in our own backyard.
Fast forward to a conversation in the fall of 2016 with Don Lowen - who serves as the Education Coordinator for Fisheries & Oceans Canada, running salmon incubation programs in schools across the South Island. We raised the idea of building a tank in our James Bay studio space, that would serve as both an educational tool for our clients and followers, but also a fantastic centrepiece for our work environment.
Within weeks, plans were hatched (heh) to get involved in the Stream to Sea Salmonid Enhancement program, and we can't wait to show you every step of the journey. Hopefully you'll enjoy watching our fish grow from eggs to alevin and eventually fry, and learn something along the way to releasing them back into local waterways!