NOVA Online > Island of the Spirits > Find Your Way

A salmon begins its life in a shallow, swift-moving stream. After feeding for a few weeks, it begins a long journey. It follows the current down to another stream, perhaps to another, then out to a river. It eventually swims out into the ocean, where it roams a vast area, sometimes traveling thousands of miles from its birthplace.

If that weren't remarkable enough, the salmon will someday return home, back to the river mouth from which it emerged, back up the same waterways it descended, back to the very stream where its life began.

It's an amazing journey—one that has caused more than one biologist to scratch her head. But experiments have shown that the fish actually smell their way to their nesting sites. Odors from the stream—perhaps minerals and organic substances washing in from the surrounding land—become more intense as a fish swims upstream and help it decide which route to take whenever it encounters a fork.

In this activity you are a salmon trying to find its way home. Since your human sense of smell is not nearly as acute as your fishy relative's (and since the technology that spits out odiferous molecules from a computer peripheral has yet to be developed), you'll have to rely on the "smells like home" meter within the activity to help guide you along.

Now Go Home!

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