Hatching young minds
Written by Holland Sentinel   
Thursday, 23 December 2004 20:18
Taped to the corner of a 75-gallon aquarium in Tim Olson's sixth-grade science classroom is a photograph of the teacher holding an 18-pound chinook salmon he caught while fishing on Lake Michigan.

Inside the large, refrigerated aquarium are a couple of hundred young, inch-long salmon that one day may beat the odds and become a large salmon swimming in the big lake.

"When one of these kids catches a big salmon some day, it's going to mean a lot more to them," Olson said. "It changes their outlook on nature."

Olson's students draw pictures once or twice a week of the ever-changing salmon, depicting the life cycle of a salmon.

"It's nice to have (the project) so the kids can see a life cycle occur," Olson said. "For them to be able to watch in person every step of the way is priceless."

Olson picked up the free salmon eggs from the Department of Natural Resources on Oct. 11.

The eggs hatched a couple of weeks ago, producing alevins, the small salmon.

As part of the salmon life cycle, the alevins will remain near the gravel, living off the yolk sac that is attached to the fish. When the yolk sac is gone, the fry will emerge from the gravel.

Olson and his classes will release the fry into the Pigeon Creek in the spring.

According to figures from agencies that raise salmon, only 1 to 5 percent of the fingerlings will return to the river to spawn.

"The kids want to keep one," Olson said, shaking his head at the idea of a large chinook salmon living in a tank. "I don't think that would work."

Once the yolk sacs are gone, Olson's students will feed the fry. The food is also donated from the DNR.

As part of the project, the students also set up the tank in the classroom.

A refrigerating device was attached to the tank, so the water can be kept between 45 degrees and 55 degrees.

The Holland Steelheaders donated $300 for the project, helping to offset the costs for some of the equipment.

In a couple of months, Olson is set to give a presentation of the project to the Holland Steelheaders.

"We have several kids who fish a lot and they share stories," Olson said. "We talk about where (the fish) will end up. We'll talk about how it fits into the ecosystem."

Olson, who worked on a charter boat for a few summers, learned of the project from fellow West Ottawa teacher Kevin Westrate, who runs a charter boat out of Saugatuck in the summer.

Westrate, who used the project in his third-grade classroom for eight years, stopped doing the project because of a change in the curriculum.

"It was wonderful for science," Westrate said. "Instead of just reading about things they got to experience it. It got them really excited about science."

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