Salmon sometimes have trouble getting over today's manmade dams. Whooshh Innovations' salmon cannon can provide an interesting solution.
Salmon are truly awe-inspiring creatures. They can swim hundreds of miles against river currents without eating, jump up to 12 feet in the air over rocky outcrops, and grow to a size of five feet and 97 pounds.
What they can’t do however, is conquer modern man’s giant dams. But that’s where the salmon cannon comes in.
Washington state-based Whooshh Innovations has designed pneumatic tubes that can safely shoot fish hundreds of feet at speeds of up to 22 miles per hour. The tubes were first designed in 2008 for moving apples without bruising them, but Todd Deligan, Whooshh’s vice president, quickly realized their invention could help salmon up and over the many dams along the Columbia River.
And we can be glad that realization happened. The number of salmon species listed as either threatened or endangered is in the double digits, and by as long ago as 1999, wild salmon had disappeared from 40% of their breeding grounds.
Dams blocking their migratory paths has a lot to do with it. A 2013 Yale study found that, even with “fish ladders” in place, as much as one-third and as little as three percent of salmon populations could successfully make it over the damns in the four states they tracked.
Last year, The Seattle Times reported that $2.4 billion dollars would be needed to remove more dams to clear the way for salmon — and they’ve been spending that kind of money for a long time now. So Whooshh’s simple idea of a salmon cannon — if successful — has come just in time.
“We put a tilapia in the fruit tube,” Deligan told The Verge in 2014. “It went flying, and we were like, ‘huh, check that out.'”
Today, Whooshh has a 500-foot cannon in Norway that moves frozen fish, in addition to its various installations across the United States. The salmon cannons have yet to be installed along the major dams of the Columbia River, but tests have shown that fish will enter the tube of their own accord; the future is looking bright.
“We have to take it at its face value,” Deligan said. “Try it, put a fish in, watch it go, laugh. But then really contemplate where this could go.”