Port Townsend students release salmon they raised into Piddling Creek

PORT TOWNSEND–The students of Grant Elementary School spent Tuesday revisiting what they had learned about salmon, and then releasing those they had raised in the classroom into the wild.

One grade at a time, the students reviewed classroom material with models of salmon in various stages of development, then spent some time crawling around inside “Fin,” a 35-foot 2500-pound salmon sculpture that is used as a movable educational tool.

The students then hopped onto a school bus and traveled to Piddling Creek near Port Ludlow, where they released their class projects into the wild.

The day was overseen by the North Olympic Salmon Coalition, which runs similar educational events in local schools each year.

“Considering the natural odds, the chances of the salmon released today coming back to Piddling Creek are slim,” said Kai Wallin, coalition volunteer and outreach coordinator.

“But the educational impact outweighs the numbers.”

Started from 250 eggs

The students acquired 250 salmon eggs from Sequim’s Hurd Creek Hatchery in January. About 220 of these grew into salmon that were released.

All of the school’s 300 kids participated in the project, according to first and second grade teacher Dorothy Stengel.

“Kids learn about life cycles and salmon’s role as a keystone species in the ecosystem,” Stengel said of the program.

First grade teacher Peter Braden, who has participated in the school’s salmon program for 10 years, said the lessons taught extended beyond salmon biology and breeding.

“We teach the kids to look how everything they do has an impact on wildlife,” he said.

“We show them how to eo-exist with nature, and how every time they go outside and move a branch it affects something else.

“We help them to develop an appreciation of what they find in nature,” he said.

Braden began the day displaying the salmon’s life cycle with a test-tube representation of each phase.

The kids, who had seen the lesson several times before, easily spouted the correct answers.

They lined up and climbed into Fin, one or two at a time.

“I know why it smells so bad in there,” said Jojo Meyering, 6. “It’s because we were in its stomach.”

Garbage is a prime topic, how moving trash from one place into other changes both environments.

Braden said the children learn about the salmon’s life cycle and their place in the food chain.

This knowledge helps them to understand the role of all animals, he said.

“All these things matter,” he said. “We are giving them a head start in their understanding of nature. “

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Jefferson County reporter Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at charlie.bermant@peninsuladailynews.com.

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