Unlocking History in Unexpected Places: Canned Tuna Discoveries

Unlocking History in Unexpected Places: Canned Tuna Discoveries

“Decades-old Cans of Salmon Reveal Changes in Ocean Health”

To say that I was intrigued when I saw this article would be a HUGE understatement. The title of this topic immediately grabbed my attention. Now depending on how squeamish you are this may or may not be the article for you but nonetheless know that it contains absolutely fascinating information!

A seemingly unusual research method opened up a world of data that has yet to be thoroughly explored. Their focus of investigation? Old cans of fish!! Their objective? Investigating the level of threatening parasites to marine mammals and their levels of fluctuation over a time span covering decades. Fortunately they received an enormous donation from the Seafood Products Association. They were cleaning out their old expired product and reached out to Chelsea Wood, a parasite ecologist at the University of Washington, and her then graduate student Natalie Mastick to see if they would have any interest. In fact they did and “they were able to use the recovered parasites to reconstruct how infection burden has changed over the course of 42 years in four salmon species.”

The intention behind this study is the fact that “Killer whales, seals and belugas prey on salmon, which are an intermediate host for various nematodes that complete their several-step life cycle in those predators. The parasites cannot breed and enter the environment without marine mammals, so the level of infection in salmon is intimately tied to that of their predators.”

Upon conclusion of the research, “the basement stash that enabled the findings consisted of 502 cans of chum, coho, pink and sockeye salmon, mostly from Alaska. The researchers dissected 178 cans in total, processed between 1979 and 2019 and varying from 22 to 62 cans per species. Half the cans contained nematodes, and they collected a total of 372 worms. They found that the number of worms per gram of tissue significantly increased over time in chum and pink salmon but that it did not change in sockeye or coho salmon.”

This out-of-the-box research provides “a view into some of the most hard-to-study species and gives insight into the nuanced way that ecosystems recover.” By “using canned salmon as a window into past ecosystems is a remarkably creative approach to reveal otherwise invisible change.” In conclusion “the finding that parasites have increased in some salmon species as their marine mammal hosts have increased is notable and shows that baselines for healthy ocean ecosystems may be wormier than people might think.”

It is cases like these where my mind is absolutely blown at the creativity that come with remarkable science practices and discoveries. There is so much more to explore! It’s encouraging that scientific discoveries can be found in unlikely places. It’s a force that drives exploration and conservation initiatives, even here at the Ross Park Zoo! We are constantly looking at new ways to approach our education and conservation work not only throughout our community but globally as well!

Read the full article here: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/decades-old-cans-of-salmon-reveal-changes-in-ocean-health/

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