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The Salmon Cannon Helps Fish Travel Upstream

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Salmon have a problem: Man-made obstacles are making it harder for them to complete their epic journey upstream to spawn. While some dams are equipped with what are called “fish ladders” that help the fish traverse, other dams, like the 236-foot-tall Chief Joseph dam, or the 550-foot-tall Grand Coulee dam, are far too big to be scaled. And if salmon can’t get back to their mating grounds, they’re not the only ones with problems. These creatures are incredibly important to the natural world. After they spawn, they often die in the river, and their bodies imbue the water and its surroundings with important nutrients. As the Wild Salmon Center, a conservation organization, puts it, “It is no coincidence that the largest remaining populations of apex predators such as brown bears and eagles occur where they are still healthy salmon runs.”

But fear not, salmon lovers, a company called Whooshh Innovations has a plausible solution: the salmon cannon. Using pneumatic tubing originally designed for quickly transporting produce, Whooshh has found a way to safely transport and propel salmon 100 feet into the air. "We put a tilapia in the fruit tube," Todd Deligan, Whooshh's vice president, told The Verge. "It went flying, and we were like, ‘Huh, check that out.'"

Once the salmon are in the tube, a vacuum is created, and pressurized air behind the fish pushes it forward until it shoots out the other end at speeds of up to 22 mph.

If you’re worried about the fish, they’re kept moist in the tubes, and show no evidence of harm. The system can transport up to 40 fish per minute. The salmon cannon, while admittedly a bit ridiculous at first glance, could be cheaper than building new fish ladders and easier than collecting salmon and transporting them upstream in trucks or barges. Whooshh started testing the tubes on salmon at the Roza Dam in Washington state in June.

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Whale Sharks Can Live for More Than a Century, Study Finds
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Some whale sharks alive today have been swimming around since the Gilded Age. The animals—the largest fish in the ocean—can live as long as 130 years, according to a new study in the journal Marine and Freshwater Research. To give you an idea of how long that is, in 1888, Grover Cleveland was finishing up his first presidential term, Thomas Edison had just started selling his first light bulbs, and the U.S. only had 38 states.

To determine whale sharks' longevity, researchers from the Nova Southeastern University in Florida and the Maldives Whale Shark Research Program tracked male sharks around South Ari Atoll in the Maldives over the course of 10 years, calculating their sizes as they came back to the area over and over again. The scientists identified sharks that returned to the atoll every few years by their distinctive spot patterns, estimating their body lengths with lasers, tape, and visually to try to get the most accurate idea of their sizes.

Using these measurements and data on whale shark growth patterns, the researchers were able to determine that male whale sharks tend to reach maturity around 25 years old and live until they’re about 130 years old. During those decades, they reach an average length of 61.7 feet—about as long as a bowling lane.

While whale sharks are known as gentle giants, they’re difficult to study, and scientists still don’t know a ton about them. They’re considered endangered, making any information we can gather about them important. And this is the first time scientists have been able to accurately measure live, swimming whale sharks.

“Up to now, such aging and growth research has required obtaining vertebrae from dead whale sharks and counting growth rings, analogous to counting tree rings, to determine age,” first author Cameron Perry said in a press statement. ”Our work shows that we can obtain age and growth information without relying on dead sharks captured in fisheries. That is a big deal.”

Though whale sharks appear to be quite long-lived, their lifespan is short compared to the Greenland shark's—in 2016, researchers reported they may live for 400 years. 

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Animal Welfare Groups Are Building a Database of Every Cat in Washington, D.C.
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There are a lot of cats in Washington, D.C. They live in parks, backyards, side streets, and people's homes. Exactly how many there are is the question a new conservation project wants to answer. DC Cat Count, a collaboration between Humane Rescue Alliance, the Humane Society, PetSmart Charities, and the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, aims to tally every cat in the city—even house pets, The New York Times reports.

Cities tend to support thriving feral cat populations, and that's a problem for animal conservationists. If a feline is born and grows up without human contact, it will never be a suitable house cat. The only options animal control officials have are to euthanize strays or trap and sterilize them, and release them back where they were found. If neither action is taken, it's the smaller animals that belong in the wild who suffer. Cats are invasive predators, and each year they kill billions of birds in the U.S. alone.

Before animal welfare experts and wildlife scientists can tackle this problem, they need to understand how big it is. Over the next three years, DC Cat Count will use various methods to track D.C.'s cats and build a feline database for the city. Sixty outdoor camera traps will capture images of passing cats, relying on infrared technology to sense them most of the time.

Citizens are being asked to help as well. An app is currently being developed that will allow users to snap photos of any cats they see, including their own pets. The team also plans to study the different ways these cats interact with their environments, like how much time pets spend indoors versus outdoors, for example. The initiative has a $1.5 million budget to spend on collecting data.

By the end of the project, the team hopes to have the tools both conservationists and animal welfare groups need to better control the local cat population.

Lisa LaFontaine, president and CEO of the Humane Rescue Alliance, said in a statement, “The reality is that those in the fields of welfare, ecology, conservation, and sheltering have a common long-term goal of fewer free-roaming cats on the landscape. This joint effort will provide scientific management programs to help achieve that goal, locally and nationally."

[h/t The New York Times]

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