Whooshh Innovations' "fish gun" shoots salmon over obstacles small and tall

Whooshh Innovations' "fish gun...
Whoosh Innovations has developed a "fish gun" to help salmon bypass man-made obstacles when making their way to spawning grounds (Photo: Shutterstock)
Whoosh Innovations has developed a "fish gun" to help salmon bypass man-made obstacles when making their way to spawning grounds (Photo: Shutterstock)
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Schematic of the Whoosh Transport System
Schematic of the Whoosh Transport System
Whoosh Innovations has developed a "fish gun" to help salmon bypass man-made obstacles when making their way to spawning grounds (Photo: Shutterstock)
Whoosh Innovations has developed a "fish gun" to help salmon bypass man-made obstacles when making their way to spawning grounds (Photo: Shutterstock)

If you live in an area where salmon spawn, then summer treats you to a free nature drama as the fish battle against currents, fight through rapids, struggle up tiny streams, and leap up waterfalls to return to the calm pools where they were born. Unfortunately, however intrepid the odd salmon is, they weren't built to take on a 300-ft tall hydroelectric dam. That's why Whooshh Innovations has developed a system that sucks the fish up through a plastic tube and shoots them over obstacles low and tall like so many piscatorial projectiles.

For over a hundred years, engineers have helped salmon and other migratory fish around insurmountable man-made barriers, such as dams, locks, and weirs, by installing devices to help them get around the structures. Some dams have fish ladders that allow the migrants to jump from one artificial pool to the next in a series of steps. Others have fish lifts, which raise the salmon to higher water in batches; locks that lift them like passing boats; and even lorries that take the netted fish by road to the next stage in their journey.

The problem with most of these solutions is that they are expensive, can take as long to install as it does to build the dam, can’t be moved once in, and can stress the fish. The solution developed by Whoosh Innovations from Bellevue, Washington is designed to avoid these setbacks by means of a portable system that can be quickly set up either temporarily or permanently, costs much less than conventional methods, yet can move large volumes of fish over the highest of obstacles.

Schematic of the Whoosh Transport System
Schematic of the Whoosh Transport System

The Whooshh Transport System is basically a flexible plastic tube hooked up to a motorized air pump. As the fish swim upstream, they’re led to a collection point that’s similar to the kind of false weir or water step used on a fish ladder. The fish are attracted to the water flowing over the weir and jump it, but instead of landing in a pool of water, they hit a slide and slip to the breach of tube, where the lower air pressure inside sucks them in and up the tube. A pressure difference of about 2 PSI with a mist of water acting as lubricant shoots the fish along at 5 to 10 m/sec (16 to 32 ft/sec), and once at the top, they pop through a gate and into the water after a brief flight through the air.

According to Whooshh, the system can handle fish of over 15 kg (33 lb) at a rate of 40 per minute, and that it doesn't damage the fish’s scales or eyes – though it may surprise them. Because the system uses air rather than water pressure, the company says there’s no theoretical limit to the height it can reach. It has only three moving parts, consumes 5 to 25 kW of power, and the 34 L (9 gal) of water per hour used for lubricant won’t freeze significantly, so the transporter can be used all year round.

In addition to being quick to set up and take down, Whooshh says that the system reduces fish lingering that plagues fish ladders, and because the tube shoots one fish through at a time, it’s ideal for screening fish to identify whether the fish are wild, hatchery, or escaped farmed varieties.

The video below shows the Whoosh Transport System in action.

Source: Whooshh Innovations via The Verge

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Mel Tisdale
"...though it may surprise them." I'll bet!
More power to their elbow. If we humans come along and, using our superior skills, spoil what nature has lived with for aeons, then surely we are obliged to further use those superior skills to remedy matters.
I suppose the only danger is that too many fish will find it so exciting they will go round for more goes and cause traffic jams, or am I anthropomorphising?
Where this is to be unmanned, perhaps it might be worth randomising the direction the fish are fired at when exiting the device. If possible, of course. Otherwise, all a poacher has go to do is place his net judiciously and he can catch as many as he has orders for.
I love this ingenuity and applaud the concern behind it. Only hope this gets exhaustive trials, because over the last century humans have thrown many millions at salmon trying to mitigate our own damage to their life cycle, and their numbers just keep dropping.
Each of these manmade solutions looks great in the beginning but is subject to all the vagaries of chance over years, and can also produce disasters. Hope all stakeholders give it a long and thorough look.
Snake Oil Baron
@Mel Tisdale
Good point about randomizing but it would also be pretty easy to police the release spot.
It would seem to put a size limit of 15 kg which might set up an evolutionary pressure to slow or stop growing before that size but maybe that isn't much of an issue. It bears keeping in mind though. Speaking of bears--no bears allowed at the release point.
I read a comment on Treehugger about this only being a partial solution, because it doesn't allow for baby Salmon to make their way back down.
And did anyone else notice that (it looks like) they totally shot that first fish into a parking lot? (they were test-launching from a parking-lot, and projecting above X hundred feet next to a chain-link fence into what looks like it would just be another parking lot). At least they had the courtesy to hold the tube such that it didn't project the poor Salmon straight into the fence! (lol). Hopefully (for the Test-Launch Salmon's sake) they also had a guy with a bucket of water to catch him. But I can't help but think they launched him from one parking lot into another parking lot. OUCH!
@ Milton They did most the tests with dead fish.
The Skud
I wonder why nobody in the design process asked that obvious question: "How do the little suckers get back down to the sea?" You wold think if they had an answer, it would have been mentioned in the story.
@ The Skud Because there are several ways that have been proven to work to get the fishes down stream.
When they transport fish over a long distance in air, won't they struggle with oxygen supply through their gills?