Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard of the “Fish Cannon” or “Fish Tube.” If not, that’s OK, I’ll introduce you to the meme sensation.
You see, there’s a company called Whooshh that’s working to help get salmon and other fish that spawn in fresh water past hydroelectric dams so we can get clean hydroelectric power without destroying whole species.
To do this, the company first came out with a core technology that required a person to manually load and send the fish up and over the dam like a bank sends a vacuum canister with your money at the drive-through. Jokers on the internet were quick to notice this unusual sight and have some fun with it.
Perhaps the funniest thing I’ve seen is this video, where they make it look like the fish are being fired at people by a real cannon:
Other memes show the fish being loaded next to a tweet that says, “Good morning. Tweet me through the fish tube.” or “Stick me in the tube so I can feel something.” All you have to do to see more of these sweet memes is Google “Fish Tube Meme.”
The Memes are Hilarious, But the Company Behind the Technology is Solving an Important Problem
There are two facts at play here, and they don’t play nice with each other.
Fact #1: We need clean, renewable energy
We need as much of that as we can get as fast as we can get it to solve climate change. For that reason, hydroelectric plants (dams that use water’s downhill flow to generate electricity) are essential. We can’t get rid of them, even if they cause other problems. Even more importantly, many of these dams could end up serving as giant batteries, which is something we need even more of.
Sure, solar panels are going up on roofs everywhere. Wind power is also expanding. The problem, as detractors of renewable energy like to point out, is that “the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow.” To get around this problem, many places are doing renewable energy plus battery storage, that way you’ll have leftover solar energy at night and some backup power for the times when the wind isn’t as strong as usual.
Hydroelectric dams don’t have this problem. When you want to generate power, you open up the flow of water through the turbines and they generate electricity. You can do this in any season, at any time of day or night, and it can quickly be turned on and off. When wind and solar don’t produce as much energy as needed, hydroelectric power is a key way to help fill the gap.
Even better, dams can store the leftover energy when too much is produced by wind and solar. If you put an electric pump downstream from the dam, connect it to a pipe that goes up and over the dam, and then pump water through the pipe, you can convert electricity into potential energy again. You use electricity to put the water back over the dam, but you get most of it back when you run that water back through the dam’s generator. Dams paired with hydropower are giant rechargeable batteries. All of this happens without conventional batteries, so the batteries will be available elsewhere for local energy storage and mobile electric vehicles.
Long story short: dams are an essential part of the solution, and we need to keep them to hasten our transition to a reliable carbon free grid. Farming and water supplies for humans also often rely on dams, so that’s even more reason we can’t take them down.
Fact #2: Dams Block Fish, Which Hurts the Whole Ecosystem
Some species of fish need to swim up the world’s rivers to mate, and they go up quite a ways. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says they go up to 200 miles upstream from the Atlantic, while some Pacific salmon journey over 900 miles and gain 7000 feet of elevation to spawn as far inland as Idaho and Montana. The most athletic fish can jump and swim past some fairly large obstacles (6–12 feet), but dams and other manmade water structures are often more than they can get past.
When the salmon can’t get upstream, it’s not only bad for them, many species of animals prey on the fish as they swim past, including bears. No fish means no food for them. The fish that do make it upstream to their breeding grounds spawn and then usually die, and their rotting remains release a lot of nutrients from the ocean into the rivers, which provide sustenance for the entire river’s ecosystem, from plants, fish, and birds all the way up the food chain to those bears.
If the plants can’t get nutrients, they don’t grow. If they don’t grow, species like deer don’t get to eat. When they don’t eat, and they die off, then species like wolves don’t get to eat. The salmon are often called a “keystone” species, because the whole thing can collapse without them.
Beyond salmon, many other species of both freshwater and saltwater fish need to go up and down rivers.
Environmental groups and other non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have been calling for a moratorium on the building of new dams for decades due to this problem and others, and they’ve even called for the removal of existing dams, but while they mean well, it’s not a good solution in the larger picture. Their concerns, even if we can’t take dams down, are still valid and need to be addressed.
How Whooshh Innovations is Solving This Problem
The people behind Whooshh™, the company with the fish tubes, aren’t the first specialists to try to solve the impasse between dams and fish. One solution that’s been around for 100 years is “fish ladders,” a small waterfall on the side of the dam that goes from one small pool to another until it reaches the river below. In theory, fish can hop up this succession of pools and small waterfalls until they get over the dam, but in practice, it doesn’t work as well as we need it to work. The same has happened with other technologies, like fish elevators. With climate change, water temperatures and water levels also change more, and these solutions work even less well.
Worse, the water lost over dams messing around with these ineffective technologies means less renewable energy can be produced, so nobody is winning the battle here. This also can mean less water for agricultural use and human consumption on some rivers, so there is a whole lot of losing going on.
That’s why Whooshh made its “fish cannons” or “fish tubes.” By being able to reliably send salmon and other fish up and over the dam without delay and without wasting valuable water, the problem can be solved efficiently and more economically. People can keep the clean energy and agricultural benefits of dams without destroying whole species and ecosystems.
Whooshh’s mission is to “SAVE, FEED, GROW.” They want to save the fish, feed the planet, and grow clean energy. To accomplish this, they can’t have people standing and stuffing fish in tubes all day. Since we’ve seen the early hand-load videos and we made our memes, their solutions have matured to solve at scale the impasse between dam operators and NGOs that are concerned about the fish.
Their latest fully automated, modular system is called the Passage Portal™. They are built so the fish can easily swim into the entrance of the Portal, sort through them with their “FishL™ recognition technology” so invasive species aren’t given passage upstream, and then provide passage for a high volume of native fish past the dams. They’re also developing a variety of complementary systems for eels, lamprey, and other species to get past dams in both directions.
They’re also going the extra mile to help solve other problems. Invasive species are a big issue in rivers, and the system’s photographic scanner with species recognition knows when one of the problem fish shows up. Instead of sending them over the dam, they get put in safe storage for humane relocation or disposal, as directed by the governments involved. They also pass on data from all the fish they scan to government and dam officials to make sure they get a snapshot of not only how many fish are going over the dam, but also what species they are and other important data that helps with wildlife conservation and management.
Here’s a video of the Passage Portal in action, along with a whole lot more information about the company:
How We Can Help Feed the Fish Cannons
Before we look for ways to help, I’d really, really recommend watching the video above. I could probably write a whole series of articles about how Whooshh can help humanity, wildlife, and the environment, but they go over a lot of that information in the video. It’s worth not only a watch, but sharing with friends (click here for a link to the video) so they can see that the fish cannons are no joke.
This is not only dead serious, hard-core environmental work, but it’s also a great example of disruptive innovation. The fish/dams impasse is a seemingly intractable problem, expensive to address, not well understood by most, and with great value on all sides at stake. Fish in a tube looks silly enough to meme about, but Whooshh is a serious business that stands to make some serious money while doing good in the world.
So, how can we help the company that has given us all so much to meme about over the years? With just a few clicks you can make a direct investment in Whooshh, own a piece of the company, help the company grow, and be along for the ride as Whooshh executes on its mission to SAVE the fish, FEED the planet, and GROW clean energy.
This article is supported by Whooshh.