For the third spring in a row, dozens of steelhead “smolts” will try to make their way from southern Puget Sound and Hood Canal rivers to the Pacific, an interactive game meant to highlight the plight of the little fish against predators, pollution and other perils.
This year’s online Survive the Sound challenge kicks off May 6 and playing is now free (previously the public entered with a donation), with teachers also supplied with a new toolkit of activities for their students.
The project’s website has also been simplified, with participants encouraged to join teams.
“The team with the most surviving fish at the end of the five-day migration wins!” says Lucas Hall of Long Live The Kings.
In the first two years, Northwest Sportsman‘s smolts have not had the best of luck, and Hall’s organization is working to understand the reasons behind declining marine survival in Puget Sound and other inside waters for not only real-world steelhead but also Chinook and coho.
Some of that work is pointing towards the Hood Canal Bridge as a very bad chokepoint for steelies.
During a kickoff celebration to this year’s event held earlier in April at Anthony’s Pier 66, LLTK’s Jacques White shared a slide that showed how two different radio-tagged fish dealt with the structure, which lays across most of the canal and continues underwater at least 15 feet.
One fish was able to emerge from underneath the bridge, swim back to the top and continue on towards the mouth of the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
The other made a number of dives to depths that steelhead would otherwise avoid — probably in the stomach of the harbor seal or possibly a harbor porpoise after the young fish was eaten.
Those two fish are among the 500 or so implanted with radio tags in their home streams before their journey to the ocean. Acoustic devices in Puget Sound record their passage or lack thereof, and that data is used for the 48 representative smolts that make up the field of contestants in the challenge, as it were.
With six days until the migration begins, 4,000 people have joined and nearly 740 different teams have formed so far (ours is Team Sealyalater, captained by Steely).
Deadline to join is May 5 but afterwards you can still follow the Journey Of The 48 on Survive the Sound’s map.
The experience is sponsored by a number of local tribes, Tacoma Power, Vulcan, and the Pike Place Market, among others.