It seems almost too bizarre to be true: a video of salmon being loaded into a tube and zipped along, Augustus Gloop-style, before being spat out into water at the other end.
The fish, suspended high above the ground, seem to be blissfully unaware they are being propelled at high speed. A video of the fish tube in action took the internet by storm on the weekend, but the company behind the product wonders what took everyone so long.
“It’s sort of been outrageous how long this has taken to catch on,” Whooshh Innovations CEO Vince Bryant told CNN.
The Seattle-based company first tested its transport technology — originally designed for the transportation of fruit — on fish in 2011, and since then has sold at least 20 systems in the United States and Europe, Bryant confirmed to 10 daily.
The footage used in the video — cut together by news organisation Cheddar — is from 2014, and shows something called the ‘Salmon Canon’. The video has been viewed more than 23 million times since futurist Dr Kash Sirinanda posted it, quickly capturing the attention of the internet.
“We are all just helpless fish zooming through this thing called life,” one person tweeted.
However, it’s more than a meme: the fish tube is an award-winning solution to what Whooshh Solutions says is a century-old problem.
First things first: the fish don’t mind it. Independent studies found the fish aren’t stressed as they zip through the tube at between five and eight metres per second, and restrictions at the entrance mean fish cannot enter a tube they’re too big for. In other words, they won’t get stuck.
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The system uses pressure differentials to move the fish — as many as 40 per minute — through the tube, with a light mist of water for lubrication.
It’s designed to transport fish from the water below dams to the spawning grounds above, while simultaneously blocking harmful, non-native species from travelling the same stretch of waterway.
Salmon populations have been in decline around the world, with the construction of dams being just one reason why (others include climate change and over-fishing). Today, salmon are extinct in almost 40 percent of the rivers where they were known to exist in the Pacific Northwest.
“We think it’s a great opportunity to educate the public,” Bryant told 10 daily about the video going viral, “who can educate / pressure the politicians, so that the resource managers have the motive to change what has been done for 100 years that has proved inadequate for this century.”
Typical fish passage technologies, including fish ladders, have limitations when it comes to attracting and transporting fish. Fish ladders can tax the energy of the fish, and limit their ability to reproduce, while ‘trap and catch’ style methods can cause stress and mortality.
Whooshh tubes, on the other hand, allow fish to pass a dam or weir with minimal energy loss and without stress or mortality. Bryant also said it costs 80 percent less than traditional passage systems, is flexible to climate change water levels, and “can pay for itself with the water saved”.
Another Whooshh employee, Mike Messina, clarified to 10 daily that the product in the video was its ‘old’ system, and that newer technology meant fish didn’t have to be individually fed into the tube.
“Our system features volitional entry — the fish swim in on their own, with no need for personnel to hand feed them into the system,” Messina said.
He added: “While technological advances in so many areas have been up-and-to-the-right in the last generation, those involving fish passage have been notably flat. We are proud to be doing something about that.”
In response to the video going viral, Byrant held a Reddit AMA, where the primary question people seemed to have was whether a human-sized tube was possible.
The answer: technically speaking, sure.
“Theoretically, yes we could put a human in a human-sized tube given that our system relies on the principle of pressure differential,” Bryan said.
“Is it practical? Not at all. Possible? Absolutely.”
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