Snoqualmie Middle School students discover how salmon work

December 16, 2009

By Laura Geggel

Snoqualmie Middle School sixth-graders Paige Neether, Sierra Backes and Ryan Jarchow, from left, point toward a female chum salmon’s gills during a science lab. (Photo by Laura Geggel)

Snoqualmie Middle School sixth-graders Paige Neether, Sierra Backes and Ryan Jarchow, from left, point toward a female chum salmon’s gills during a science lab. (Photo by Laura Geggel)

Snoqualmie Middle School sixth graders got a serving of salmon in their science class to help them become better acquainted with fish anatomy.

The pre-dissected chum prompted several ‘ewwws’ from squirmy students who kept an arm’s length from the silvery fish.

Sixth-grader Sara Whitley offered her two cents on the workshop while eyeing the fish, whose pink innards were the brightest thing on the newspaper-covered table.

“To see it cut open kind of makes you sick to your stomach, but once you touch it it’s kind of cool because you feel weird but you’re also learning the science,” Whitley said, adding she’s grateful to “have a cool teacher like Mr. (Gary) Moen and to go to a good school like SMS.”

Cara Ianni, education program manager for Stilly-Snohomish Fisheries Enhancement Task Force, quizzed the class and encouraged them to probe further,

“Why do the males have bigger teeth?” Ianni asked, motioning toward the mouths of the male and female chum.

“So the males can fight each other for the females,” said sixth-grader Kris Gordon, who knew the correct answer to this and many more salmon questions.

“I used to be into sharks,” Gordon said. “They’re about the same (as salmon) on the outside.”

The next topic rated higher on the ‘gross’ scale. Ianni told the students that salmon have slime all over their bodies to help them swim faster, slip through the grasp of predators and stay healthy.

“A wall of slime stops bacteria from getting through,” Ianni said.

Students also saw the salmon’s air bladder, which allows the fish to go up and down underwater. Sixth-grader Trevor Willhite said he liked the hands-on aspect of the lab.

“I thought it was pretty fun. I like how they actually use real salmon,” Willhite said. “I learned how the (salmon’s) body system works.”

Sixth-grader Patrick Nguyen said he didn’t care for the smell, but found himself intrigued by the dissected salmon.

“It was very interesting to see their internal organs,” Nguyen said. “I didn’t know a salmon that big had a very small heart.”

After the salmon dissection workshop, the students walked to the next of six stations, which helped students learn about salmons’ life cycles, environments and issues threatening their survival.

In another part of the classroom, students looked at salmon at different stages of life, from egg to alevin, fry to parr and smolt to adult.

“It looks like a tiger,” sixth-grader Gage Day said of the fry, which had black stripes similar to some tigers.

“How do the markings help this guy?” parent volunteer Stephne Porterfield asked.

“Camouflage,” sixth-grader Julia Miller said.

The workshop, which was free for Snoqualmie Elementary School, was paid for by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Washington Department of Ecology and King Conservation District. The Stillaguamish Fish Hatchery in Arlington donated the salmon for the dissection.

Snoqualmie Middle School science teacher Gary Moen said his students enjoyed the lab, which tied into his lesson plan for diversity of life.

“The salmon study fits perfectly into our curriculum; plus, this fish is an important part of our history, heritage and economy of the Northwest,” Moen said.

In their next lab, students will plant trees along the Snoqualmie River to help protect salmon habitat.

Laura Geggel: 392-6434, ext. 221 or

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