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Nathan's column: Something fishy in the air

We’re a culture that loves superlatives. Maybe more than we love anything else ever.

We label up-and-coming basketball stars the next Michael Jordan while they’re still in high school and declare athletic events instant classics just because neither team embarrassed itself. Stores offer once-in-a-lifetime deals nearly every other week, and people Instagram their meals as if running an image of your shrimp linguini through a filter immediately makes it fine art.

I’m sure it was tasty, but I promise your dinner wasn’t good enough the world needs to see it.

All of which is to say, I imagine there might be some skepticism when I tell you I’ve found the world’s greatest invention. But it’s absolutely true.

Don’t believe me? Let me offer you two words to support my claim: Salmon cannon.

You’re intrigued now, right? And you should be. Because what else in the history of science, engineering or fish husbandry can really compare with a device designed to launch live salmon through the air in the interest of aiding their mating? It’s about as literally as you can take the term “wing man” without some highly dubious plastic surgery.

Television is great, obviously, but it also brought us Dancing With the Stars, and that’s a big mark against it. Sliced bread? Please. Thirty years from now, people will measure new creations by describing them as the best thing since the salmon cannon. I can almost guarantee it.

Maybe I should explain. Salmon, you probably know, swim upstream to spawn. But as humans dam rivers, the fish have found more and more challenges to getting to their preferred destinations. There have been other solutions. For smaller obstructions, there are so-called salmon ladders, which allow the fish to jump upstream but lack a certain pneumatic power.

According to a story at, conservationists have already tried moving randy salmon upstream by loading them onto trucks or barges or helicopters. But that’s a lot of hassle to go through for a fish that’s already filled to the gills with pent up sexual energy.

Plus, it doesn’t gives the fish a chance to shout “Whooooooooo!” (or some fishy equivalent) as it hurtles skyward at speeds up to 22 miles per hour.

That’s where a company called Whooshh Innovations comes in. They had already built fancy pneumatic tubes to transport fruit, but when they turned their brilliant minds to the tricky issue of piscine relocation, they became convinced their creation could apply.

“So we put a tilapia in the fruit tube,” Whooshh vice president Todd Deligan told The Verge. “It went flying, and we were like, ‘Huh, check that out.’”

Frankly, we need more people who think like that. Where some people might say, “Does it make sense to catapult salmon over a hydroelectric dam,” the folks at Whooshh say, “Salmon cannon!” And where others might question the wisdom of applying the transportation principles of a bank drive-through to a living being, Whoooshh’s inventors, said emphatically, “SALMON CANNON!”

And they have a point.

According to The Verge’s story, the tubes were tested in June at the Roza Dam in Washington. There, a tube salmon moved salmon from the river into the back of a tanker truck. The fish apparently swim into the tube voluntarily, and why wouldn’t they?

It doesn’t appear the cannons have yet been used to actually fling a live fish through the air and directly into another part of the river. But video on the Whooshh website suggests that is both possible and glorious.

So far, the fish don’t seem to have suffered any ill effects from their tube-facilitated moving, although more of them seem to have gotten tattoos and piercings. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife plans to test them again in a few weeks.

I can only hope that if things go well it will be open season for salmon launches. If it is, the world will truly be a better place.

Nathan Hansen

Nathan Hansen has been a reporter and editor with the Farmington Independent and the Rosemount Town Pages since 1997. He is very tall.

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