New game lets you travel with wacky steelhead as they try to survive

In a new game open to everyone, 48 colorful cartoon fish will soon follow the wandering paths of real-life steelhead that have been tracked during their migration through Puget Sound.

Just like their counterparts in the real world, some of the young steelhead in the game will survive the trip from South Puget Sound or southern Hood Canal — but many will not. The game’s basic tenet is to choose a fish that you feel will be lucky or cunning enough to make it through a gauntlet of hazards from predators to disease. You then watch and learn about the needs and threats to salmon and steelhead as the game progresses over 12 days, beginning May 8.

The educational game, called Survive the Sound, was developed by Long Live the Kings. Each fish you enter will cost $25, with proceeds going to the organization. Long Live the Kings has long been known for its work in rebuilding wild salmon and steelhead populations and researching the needs and threats to these amazing migratory fish.

“I’ve seen some of these migration paths of steelhead,” said Lucas Hall of Long Live the Kings. “Some take some wacky paths, and some even turn around and go the wrong direction for a while.”

As I said, the cartoon fish are based on a select group of real-life fish. Each fish has a home base, either the Nisqually or the Skokomish river, and the size of the real fish is listed. Where the game departs from real life is that the fish are given funny names, and each fish is quoted with a phrase that it might say.

A fish called Itchy Roe is dressed as a baseball player and says, “Swimming this gauntlet is still better than playing in Cleveland.”

Another fish is named Call Me Fishtail, and he says, “Uncharted truth: it is not down in any map; true places never are” — a line from the novel Moby Dick.

The there is Sci-Fi: “This migration is one small step for fish, one giant leap for fish-kind.”

The original tracking effort is conducted by implanting tiny acoustic transmitters into young fish. Receivers placed along the migratory route pick up transmissions that identify the specific fish. If a little steelhead gets eaten by a seal or a bird, researchers may find themselves tracking the predator until the transmitter is excreted.

The idea for the game came up during a board meeting of Long Live the Kings, Lucas told me. Someone mentioned that it would be intriguing to have a Fantasy Football game for fish with winners and losers, as in the real world of salmon and steelhead. The game is now six months into development.

“We’re trying to tell a story in a way that people can understand,” Lucas said.

People may purchase any number of fish for themselves or gift them to others. Prizes will be awarded in several categories. For details, go to the FAQ page on the game’s website. If your fish dies, you will still get updates on the migration along with other ongoing information.

The game is linked to the Salish Sea Marine Survival Project, an international effort involving more than 60 groups in the U.S. and Canada that are attempting to explain why so few salmon and steelhead grow up to spawn as adults. Among the project’s supporters is the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation. Vulcan Inc., founded by Allen, helped with the design and user interface for the game.

KUOW reporter Ellis O’Neill visited Big Beef Creek on the Kitsap Peninsula to see how the steelhead are implanted with acoustic tags. She also spoke with Seattle attorney Ryan McFarland and his 8-year-old son Dylan, who will be playing the game. Hear her report below, followed by a video story told by reporter Allison Morrow of KING-5 television.

Listen to “2017-04-26-steelhead” on Spreaker.

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