Viral sensation dubbed the ‘salmon cannon’ was tested by researchers in Tri-Cities

A technology that was created to help salmon successfully travel across dams has recently gone viral across the country, but it has its roots in Tri-Cities.

The so-called “salmon cannon” was created by Seattle-based company Whooshh Innovations, but it was tested by a team of researchers at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL).

The original technology – the Whooshh Fish Transport System (WFTS) – was developed in 2014. Using that model, fish had to be hand-pushed into a pressurized tube to be sent over the dam.

“There was always a need and an understanding that we needed to develop a way that we didn’t have to hand-load fish into the system,” said Alison Colotelo, project manager at PNNL and part of the team that studied the technology. “That’s very time-consuming and expensive.”

In 2017, the Whooshh Ellips Scanning Sorting system (WESS) was added to the original model. The system scans the fish before sending them through the correctly-sized tube.

“We found with the new model it does a fairly good job of sorting fish by size,” said Colotelo. “We also saw very little instances of injuries, very low mortality and there was very little occurrence of unexpected outcomes like fish getting stuck or going backwards.”

Colotelo said after researching the new technology PNNL scientists came to the conclusion that it was comparable in safety to other methods like trap and haul operations, where fish are loaded into a truck and driven around the dam before being released back into the river.

“It’s more cost-effective and it’s also very flexible,” said Colotelo. “It can be put in lots of different places and assembled relatively quickly compared to a fish ladder.”

PNNL researchers published their findings in science journal Fisheries Research this past Spring.

This isn’t the first salmon-related research conducted by scientists at PNNL. Researchers there have also developed a “robot fish” to send through dams and retrieve afterwards. The goal is to better understand what happens to fish as they pass through the turbulent waters and turbines.