Go on a salmon scavenger hunt to find out about threats to salmon populations. Gather information about some of the reasons wild salmon have gone from such incredible abundance to relative scarcity, and about some of the things people are doing to help salmon recover.


Describe several ways in which human activities impact salmon at various points in their life cycle.

Grade Level



  • Science
  • Social Studies
  • Language Arts (research skills)


alevin, aquaculture, dissolved oxygen, egg, fry, hatchery, silt, smolt


One session plus research time


  • copies of the “Salmon Scavenger Hunt” handout
  • research materials
  • Internet access

National Science Standards

This activity supports the following National Academy of Sciences science education standards.

Grades 5-8:

  • Standard F: Science in Personal and Social Perspectives - Populations, resources, and environments

National Social Studies Standards

This activity supports the following National Council for the Social Studies standards.

Middle Grades:

  • Standard IX: Global Connections - d
  • Standard X: Civic Ideals and Practices - e, f, j

Before You Begin

Make one copy of “Salmon Scavenger Hunt” handout for each student, arrange for access to the Internet, and collect research materials about salmon. (See Salmon Resources at http://worldwildlife.org/windows/pdfs/salmon_resources.pdf)

What to Do

  • Set up the scavenger hunt.
    Begin by asking the students to tell you what they know about the status of salmon. Are the fish as abundant as they once were? Why or why not? What problems affect different stages of the salmon's life cycle? What kinds of things are people doing to help salmon? Once you've gotten an idea of the students' base of knowledge, explain that they are going to go on a scavenger hunt to find answers to these and other questions.
  • Hand out the scavenger hunt sheet.
    Divide the group into teams of four or five students. Next, hand out a copy of the scavenger hunt sheet to each student. Explain that each team should work together to find as many of the items on the sheet as they can. They can divide up the work in any way they want. Suggest that they search on the Internet, in the library, or through any research materials you have collected. (Note: You may want to talk with your students about how they might evaluate the accuracy of information presented in resource materials, especially information found on the Internet. Remind them that, just because something has been printed or posted online, it isn't necessarily true. They should note where the information came from and try to determine whether the author or organization responsible for the information is a reliable source.) Also explain that they may not be able to find every item on the list in the time allotted, but that they should do the best that they can. Now give the students time to do their scavenger hunt.
  • Review student findings as a group.
    Once the students have completed their scavenger hunts, gather as a large group. Review their findings and have them add up their points. Were there any surprises on the list? Did everyone understand the threats?
  • Review threats to salmon.
    Ask your students to consider the ways in which people compete with salmon for the land and water essential for the well being of both. Name some human activities that threaten salmon (overfishing, fish farms, dams, forestry operations, farming and ranching, mining, and development--see “Fish Fate” for more). Do those activities have any benefits? To whom? (Dams generate electricity, forestry supplies wood products, development provides people with homes, and so on.) Why might that make salmon conservation a controversial issue? (There are good reasons for and against activities that harm salmon populations, and it's difficult to balance the needs of people with the needs of salmon.)


Using the information obtained through the scavenger hunt, have the students write an essay or a letter to a newspaper editor. The writing should describe the current status of salmon, what threats exist, and what is being done to alleviate those threats.

Unsatisfactory - Three or fewer concepts are incorporated; incomplete ideas are presented.

Satisfactory - Four concepts are included in the essay or letter, at least three of which are presented as complete ideas.

Excellent - Four or more well-developed concepts are included, and there is a logical flow to the essay or letter.


  • Depending on the level of your group, you may want to organize mini-debates or mock town meetings around one or more of the topics discussed in step 4. Have the students debate the merits of keeping or removing a local dam that generates inexpensive power for a substantial number of residents but threatens a salmon species. Or have them argue for and against a new housing development in salmon habitat. They can use the Internet to find reasons people cite for and against these activities.
  • Many of the issues brought up in this activity tie directly to the concepts of watersheds. You may wish to expand this activity to take a more in-depth look at watersheds--including the watershed your students live in. You may even want to monitor the health of a nearby stream.


Activity adapted from Oceans of Life - An Educator's Guide to Exploring Marine Diversity, a resource of World Wildlife Fund's Windows on the Wild biodiversity education program. For more information on WOW please visit www.worldwildlife.org/windows.

Activity Handouts

All PDF files require Adobe Acrobat 5 or above. For additional classroom content, please visit PBS TeacherSource.