Rose Morphey,fourth-grade teacher SALMON, Idaho While biologists puzzle over how to keep salmon and steelhead runs returning to the Salmon River Valley, Rose Morphey’s fourthgraders are learning firsthand how hard it is for fish to reproduce.
Last year, Morphey and her students worked with a 10-gallon aquarium and religiously added ice to the aquarium four times a day to keep water temperatures low enough for hatching - between 50 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit. A janitor helped by adding ice each evening.
Morphey said they got good results but it was labor-intensive.
This year, thanks to an Idaho Department of Fish and Game grant, they are working with a 75-gallon aquarium that regulates temperature and water flow.
Morphey’s pupils have become experts among their peers on fish life cycles, which begin and end with reproduction in the rivers and streams of their valley.
“The daddy has to put this milt stuff on the eggs to keep them fertilized,” student Heidi Brown explained. “And he has to do it quickly.”
This fall, a team of Fish and Game biologists introduced the class to fish reproduction by adding live rainbow trout to the aquarium for spawning. After first squeezing eggs out of the female, then squeezing the male “milt” onto the eggs, they incubated the eggs in the aquarium.
Students watched with horror as the sac-fry emerged from the aquarium nursery, only to be devoured by the bigger fish, said Morphey. After 45 minutes of separating the two, one student summed up the lesson he had learned for the day.
“We can’t be angry with those bigger fish, because that’s the food chain,” he told Morphey. “Mother Nature made them do it.”
Spawning the fish left a big impression on the kids. Morphey said one student wrote about it, “This is the best experience I’ve ever had in school.” And watching the eggs develop eyes, spines and food sacs, then grow to maturity, has brought life to her science class.
“There’s nothing like watching something develop rather than just seeing it in a book,” Morphey said. “It’s all new to me, too.”
Last week, Fish and Game biologist Tom Curet introduced the class to the chinook salmon.
“Idaho salmon are the Arnold Schwarzeneggers of chinook salmon,” he told the fourth-graders. “They’re the meanest, strongest chinook there are.”
Curet and Mark Liter, his teaching partner and fellow fisheries biologist, develop their own lesson plans for Morphey’s class and have expanded their repertoire to other schools and to lessons on wildlife as well as fish.
Now in their second year, they say it’s getting easier.
“It’s real hard because our sessions aren’t canned and it takes a long time to put together a 45-minute class,” Liter said.
But, “I just see this thing getting bigger and better all the time.”
Liter hopes to be able to get aquariums for the Challis High School and Stanley Elementary.
Some of the fingerlings from the aquarium in Morphey’s class will be released on Earth Day into Kid’s Creek, which meanders through Salmon.
Fishing in Kids’ Creek is restricted to children 12 and younger.
Morphey said her students also will write scripts for videotaped plays about the life cycle of fish.