Each year in Sitka herring season arrives, marked by reliable traditions: the proliferation of whales, sea lions and eagles; the arrival of the commercial herring fleet; trips to set branches for the subsistence collection of herring eggs.
This year, the Sitka Tribe, Sitka School District and Sitka National Historical Park added another element, one they hope will become a new tradition: herring camp. During spring break, about fifteen students, in 5th grade through high school, participated in a week of research into herring biology and ecology. The camp included field trips out onto the water to collect plankton and watch the commercial fishery; dissections in the lab; and discussions with tribal elders, the Alaska Department of Fish & Game, and the U.S. Forest Service.
KCAW’s Rachel Waldholz dropped by the last day of camp, and sent this postcard, along the way learning a little something about what goes on inside this iconic spring fish.
What do we have ladies?
Instructor Michelle Ridgeway is examining the handiwork of 6th graders Abby Saiz and Cora Dow. The two Blatchley Middle School students have just finished dissecting a herring. They’re now placing pins to label the different body parts.
So would you guys describe for me what you’re doing right now?
We’re labeling a fish.
You’re labeling a fish. So what are you labeling?
Where the organs are, because it’s cut open.
So describe this fish for me.
It has its eye poked out.
Next to the herring is a small petri dish.
So what’s in this petri dish here?
The eye and a heart.
And that’s the herring’s heart right there? OK, describe that for me.
It’s triangle shaped, and tiny, very tiny.
And is the eye actually bigger than the heart?
Describe that eye for me.
It’s about a centimeter, I guess around, and it’s kind of silvery, and then it has a pupil that’s black. And then the back is kind of white-ish. And it has blood on it.
How did it feel when you were pulling that out of the fish?
Ummm, pretty disgusting. [laughs] Squishy!
Ridgeway quizzes her students on the different parts of herring anatomy…
And what are the two main functions of the air bladder?
Floatation and communication.
Communication, exactly. It’s amazing these herring can make sound using their air bladder…and primary function?
To help breathe.
Okay, gills. And they’re extracting what from the water?
…and after a week of herring camp, they pass with flying colors.
Nice detailed work, ladies. Excellent internal anatomy. Okay! Let’s prepare your exhibit for the public. Ready to go? Let’s go.