It’s not every day that a school of fish actually gets to go to school.
But that is indeed the case when Turlock Irrigation District partners annually with local schools and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to promote the Department’s Salmonids in the Classroom program.
This year’s program involves a number of classrooms spread throughout TID’s electric service territory, ranging from kindergarten through high school. The program allows for students to view portions of the Chinook salmon life cycle first-hand, starting with fertilized eggs in their classroom aquarium in January all the way through releasing salmon into local rivers around March.
TID aquatic biologist Patrick Maloney administers the program and partners with the Department of Fish and Wildlife, which provides salmon eggs from the Merced River Hatchery as well as permits to conduct the work. Maloney works with educators to cater classroom presentations that begin in early fall before eggs are placed into classroom aquariums in December. Presentations cover topic areas such as the Chinook salmon life cycle, anatomy and physiology of fishes, river geology, riparian vegetation, aquatic habitat, predatory fish and even the mathematics of egg incubation.
TID provides aquarium equipment to classrooms for the duration of the program. In all, TID has been participating in the salmonid program for 27 years.
Eventually, the salmon eggs hatch in late January, much to the amazement of students. Field trips are then planned for late February or March, where students get to see the salmon released into local rivers to attempt their trek to the Pacific Ocean and back.
“I love lecturing and having discussions with the students from September to March, but the real payoff for me is attending the salmon release field trips,” said Maloney, who has worked as TID’s aquatic biologist the past five years. “Everything they’ve been learning about in the classroom is right in front of them at the river’s edge, and I see their eyes light up as concepts become reality.”