By Judy Pickens
Special to West Seattle Blog
When school closures started in March, most of the 72 teachers leading Salmon in the Schools projects across the city immediately released their tiny fish into the wild on the chance that some might survive. In West Seattle, however, most salmon teachers found ways to keep growing their fish and to share releases electronically with their students.
Arbor Heights Elementary‘s tank tender Kristin Waitt Hutchinson spun into action as soon as the closure notice came. She quickly got a freshwater tank ready in her garage for the 150 coho fry she had been helping teacher Angie Nall care for at the school. Two months later, she brought the robust fish to Fauntleroy Park, where Angie shared the release as it happened with her students on Zoom.
The Cove School made sure to involve each of its preschool students by inviting parents to pick up a few fish at the school for family releases. Sanislo Elementary scheduled families and faculty members at the release site. Teachers at other schools created release videos for students to watch on YouTube.
Pathfinder K-8’s fish went in the creek right after the school closed, but first-grader Lilia Matual hatched a second-best plan. She and grandpa Dennis Hinton put coho fry reared by volunteer Jack Lawless into the creek, naming each one after a member of her class.
“There’s no substitute for the hands-on releases we’ve hosted on Fauntleroy Creek for more than 20 years,” Dennis said. “Faced with that impossibility this year, teachers, parents, tank tenders, and creek volunteers had to get creative to make sure that every one of the 2,000-plus fish that went into the creek was still tied to a student.”
Individual school releases ended May 19, as did monitoring of coho smolts leaving the creek for their two years in saltwater.
Dennis and fellow volunteer Pete Draughon started checking soft traps in the upper and lower channel on March 1 for the 4″-5″ fish. They documented a total of 78 – four times last year’s count and the fourth highest count since the Fauntleroy Watershed Council began this research in 2003.