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Virtual Reality Game Brings Feel Of Fantasy Football To Salmon Survival Studies

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Courtesy Long Live The Kings
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Lucas Hall visited Susan Foley’s 1st and 2nd graders at University Child Development School in Seattle in 2017 to pilot Survive the Sound in the classroom.";

Saving salmon and steelhead in Washington state can seem like a mission with miserable prospects.

But one nonprofit has made it into a game that they say is a lot like fantasy football, and schools are involved this year.

The game is called “Survive the Sound. It’s focused on steelhead trout, Washington’s state fish – a special kind of rainbow trout that becomes a steelhead after it goes out to the ocean and comes back to spawn.

But research ecologist Iris Kemp says, many aren’t.

"Steelhead are having an issue out-migrating through Puget Sound Waters,” she said.

Salish Sea Survival Project

Kemp is with the nonprofit Long Live the Kings. She’s working on a study called the Salish Sea Survival Project and says Steelhead pose one of the biggest mysteries.

“So they’re leaving the rivers, but after they leave the rivers, before they get to the ocean, in that two-week period, about 80 percent of them die,” Kemp said.

That’s based on data from tags inserted into the fish to track them, in cooperation with federal scientists at NOAA Fisheries.

Looking For Clues On How And Why Fish Die

It’s a huge puzzle, based on a whole lot of depressing data, because there are so many factors at play. It could be predators, pollution, the list goes on.

“And so we said, well we’ve got tracking data, let’s make a race out of it, let’s make a fun game out of it. AndSurvive the Soundwas born,” said the game’s project coordinator, Lucas Hall

Bringing Fisheries Science To Classrooms

This year, Hall says they’ve provided tools for school teachers to get classrooms involved. They’re reaching about 30,000 pupils, as teachers at dozens of schools use them as part of their science curriculum.

“The idea is that you try to look at all these 48 funny looking fish at SurvivetheSound.org, you pick a fish, you link up with your friends, family and co-workers, and then you kind of have a friendly competition,” Hall said.

“Smack talk encouraged.”

He says last year, when they put the game out there for the first time, several teachers contacted them, asking if they could use it to play with pupils in the classroom.

Past practices of taking kids on field trips to see salmon and steelhead or their habitat in the wild have become too expensive for many schools. The Survive the Sound game is a more affordable way to get their students interacting with the material.

Playing With Real Data

The colorful avatars such as Bubbles or FishyMcFishFace are based on last year’s data from real scientists the field.

The rivers they’re running are also real: the Nisqually near Olympia and the Skokomish near Olympic National Park.

The virtual run starts May 7 and ends May 18. Playing the game does cost individuals a minimum $5 donation to choose one fish. (Grant funding made it free for educators who applied before April 27.) In return you get daily updates about what’s happening on your run and why.

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment beat for KNKX, where she has worked since 1999. From 2000-2012, she covered the business and labor beat. Bellamy has a deep interest in Indigenous affairs and the Salish Sea. She has a masters in journalism from Columbia University.
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