Kids learn about threatened Utah fish

Thursday , May 08, 2014 - 2:47 PM

Randi Weston, Standard-Examiner correspondent

OGDEN — The weather was appropriately wet for the Ogden Nature Center’s Hooked on Fish Wild Wednesday program as AmeriCorps naturalist intern Brianne Hanson led the class in a lesson on Utah’s fish and the birds that eat them.

Hanson started by asking, “What makes a fish a fish?” The children eagerly named off fishy characteristics and Hanson discussed them each in greater depth. She said fish have three main fins: a dorsal fin along the top of the body for stability, a tail to propel the fish through the water, and two pectoral fins on the sides of the body which allow the fish to move from side to side. Hanson also threw in some fun facts with a bit of a gross-out factor such as, “most lipstick is made out of fish scales.”

Then came a fish facts true or false guessing game. Hanson’s class learned that fish do, in fact, have taste buds — about 20,000 more than our measly 7,000 —and that their taste buds can be found all over their bodies. They learned that fish are the oldest vertebrate species at over 500 million years old. Lastly, to the surprise of Hanson’s entire class, they learned that fish can drown.

“Fish breathe oxygen,” said Hanson. “So, if there’s no oxygen in the pond, lake, or stream where they live, fish will drown.”

Hanson then introduced some native and non-native fish found in Utah. The June Sucker, Bonneville Whitefish, Least Chub, and Bonneville Cutthroat (our state fish) are all native to Utah, whereas the Brook Trout, Large Mouth Bass, Yellow Perch, and Walleye were brought in as sport fish for area fishermen.

Hanson said native species are hard to find in Utah because the non-native fish have overpowered the native fish — using up resources and pushing native fish toward threatened and endangered statuses. She said the Least Chub, a pocket-size fish with orange tint, is only found in six places in all of Utah and doesn’t exist outside the state. Several Least Chubs make a home away from home with some June Suckers in the ONC’s aquarium, and were understandably wary of their visitors during Hanson’s class.

After meeting the fish, Hanson took her class outside to meet some birds who’d love to have the fish over for dinner sometime. Des Ta Te, the ONC’s resident Bald Eagle, greeted Hanson’s students with a spirited piping trill. Hanson explained that Des Ta Te can eat up to a pound of fish a day and that her talons help her to catch fish and hold onto them so she can tear them to bits with her curved beak.

Hanson then led her students over to the shorebirds exhibit where they met Einstein, a pelican, Gonzo, a cormorant, and Jonathan, a sea gull.

“Pelicans can hold three gallons of water in their bills,” said Hanson, “and they eat one gallon of fish a day.”

Justina Bernstein, who accompanied her nephew, Rome Bernstein, to Wild Wednesday, said she is a big fan of the program.

“Wild Wednesdays are great. Every week they teach the kids something new,” said Bernstein, adding that she learned some new information about fish taste buds and vocal cords (or lack thereof), as well. “These classes make kids think about things. They start relating things on their own bodies with the bodies of other species.”

Her nephew eloquently agreed.

“I thought the class today was superb,” said Rome, age 8. “It teaches kids something new every Wednesday. It is a wonderful experience and it will teach you all about animals.”

Rome said his father is a fisherman, and he has learned a lot about fish from him. But, he was still surprised by some of the information presented in the class.

“Who does not like fish?” said Hanson. “I love fish. I’m glad I got this program. Fish are amazing; they live and breathe in the water and never leave it.”

More information on the ONC’s Wild Wednesday programs can be found on the organization’s website:

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