When the doors to Chicago’s world-famous Shedd Aquarium opened the Saturday before Memorial Day, Center for Limnology researchers were scrambling to get last-second details in place.
Thousands of “fish passports,” a half dozen posters and two enormous fish-researcher cut-outs were at the ready. It was May 24th, World Fish Migration Day. By the day’s end more than 10,000 people would filter through the Shedd and thousands of them learned a little bit about why fish migrate and what makes migratory fish so cool.
“It was pandemonium,” says Stephanie Jnauchowski-Hartley, a postdoctoral researcher at the Center for Limnology. But, she says, materials like the “fish passports” the group handed out helped kids (and their parents) navigate the throngs of visitors at the aquarium. The passports featured five species of migratory fishes that are on display at the Shedd. Visitors could then search the aquarium to find each fish, from species like the Great Lakes-dwelling northern pike, to the Amazon River’s giant arapaima.
“The passports provided a sort of suggested itinerary for how to navigate the Shedd,” Hartley says, noting that many kids took the mission to find the five different species of migratory fishes very seriously, returning to her with completed, stamped passports to earn their prize.
The idea behind the event, says CFL faculty member, Pete McIntyre, was to join in the hundreds of events being staged around the globe for World Fish Migration Day and, hopefully, help aquarium visitors learn a thing or two about why fish migrate and why migratory fish matter.It was also an ideal way to collaborate with the Shedd Aquarium.
“We wanted to take advantage of our collaboration with Shedd’s conservation and science department and, in person, reach a much larger audience in one day than we ever could here in Madison,” McIntyre says, calling the event “very successful.”
“There we at least a thousand kids who participated in the “fish passport” event,” McIntyre says. “And we had dozens of deeper conversations with adults about our research. A lot of people are aware that some fish, like steelhead or pike, migrate but they were less aware that those migrations can be essential to a population’s survival.”
In addition to sending kids off on an aquatic scavenger hunt, the team of volunteers from both the UW-Madison and UW-Green Bay entertained and educated guests using things like a series of posters explaining fish migrations, a satellite tag used for tracking migrating fish, and a jar full of thousands upon thousands of white sucker larvae.
The most popular props, however, were the ones providing the best photo ops. Two life-size cutouts depicting Center for Limnology and Shedd researchers holding large migratory freshwater fish were on display, with holes cut out where their heads should be.
Solomon David says it’s fun knowing there are now thousands of pictures out there with someone else’s face atop his body holding a large northern pike. David is the reason behind the Center for Limnology and Shedd collaborations. He is a postdoctoral researcher working for both organizations on migratory fish in the Great Lakes. When he saw the announcements about World Fish Migration Day, he knew the Shedd would be a perfect place to do something and that the UW researchers working on it would be more than happy to share what they know about migratory fish. David was right on all counts and, if the turnout on May 24th is any indication, like many of the fishes they study, next year will be worth a return trip!