The fall and triumph of the Connecticut River salmon.

This is, ultimately, a success story. But in order to have success, you've got to have challenges.

If you're a wild Atlantic salmon, these last few hundred years have definitely been challenging.

The Connecticut River had been dead for over 200 years.

Dead to wild salmon, at least. Atlantic salmon used to spawn in the river, nearly 40,000 of them each year. Though salmon spend most of their adult lives out in the ocean, they always return to streams and rivers to breed — not just any stream or river, either, but to the exact streams or rivers where they were born. 

By the end of the 1700s, pollution and damming had essentially killed off all the salmon who called the Connecticut River home. The pollution made them sick, and the dams physically stopped their migration in its tracks. The combination of those two obstacles ensured that no salmon would ever be able to return to the Connecticut River.

By the time this postcard was made, circa 1900, the salmon had long disappeared. Image from The New York Public Library.

Unfortunately, this is a common problem throughout the Atlantic. Many historic salmon runs in places like Scotland are seeing salmon disappear, no thanks to overfishing in both fresh and salt water.

Losing the salmon isn't just sad for people who like to eat them — it's sad for the river's ecosystem as well.

When a salmon's finished laying eggs, it dies. That might seem like a raw deal, but that's how it goes for salmon. But that does something marvelous for the ecosystem. That salmon's body is full of nutrients stored up from its life in the ocean. When it dies, those nutrients are released back into the stream and surrounding environment.

The entire river benefits from what the salmon bring. Image from NPS/Wikimedia Commons.

Salmon are, effectively, a pump moving nutrients from the ocean into the forest. In the Pacific Northwest, where salmon runs are common, one study estimated salmon provide as many nutrients as a layer of commercial fertilizer.

So yeah, it's important that we keep our salmon populations alive. 

For years, people tried to revive the Connecticut River salmon ... and failed.

There were programs in the 1800s, and then one started again in the 1960s to revive the salmon population. People cleaned up the river. Passageways were built around dams to allow the fish to migrate again. But the salmon were gone. And because wild salmon only return to the river of their birth — and no wild salmon had been born in the Connecticut River for years — no salmon returned.

Instead, biologists focused on stocking the river with salmon eggs, hoping that the fish would be able to find their way back once they had grown up. There was some success, but budget cuts and a devastating hurricane put that program in danger. In 2012, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service stopped participating in the program. A few legacy projects hung on, but it looked like the end.

GIF from "Finding Nemo."

But remember how I said this was a success story?

In November 2015, biologists discovered THREE salmon nests, complete with eggs, in the Connecticut River!

This is huge news for salmon, people, and the environment!

It means that not only are salmon returning the river, but the water is clean enough for them to successfully breed as well. 

Juvenile salmon live in freshwater rivers and streams before migrating out to the ocean as adults. Image from The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/Wikimedia Commons.

This is great news! Salmon have been an important food supply for people for millennia, and they're an important species for anglers too. Not to mention all that work keeping that nutrient-pumping cycle in the river's ecosystem going.

Now, three salmon nests isn't a lot, but it might be the start of something beautiful.

Maybe a return to something like this? Image from NOAA Photo Library/Wikimedia Commons.

This is something that hasn't happened in over 200 years

"It's the first time since probably the Revolutionary War," Peter Aarrestad director at the State Department of Energy and Environmental Protection told the Hartford Courant.

A lot of people have worked hard for a long time to make the Connecticut River home to those three little nests. And it goes to show that we don't just have the capacity to hurt the planet — we can help heal it as well.

Hopefully those three little nests are the heralds of a time when we can return to seeing a Connecticut River filled with 50,000 salmon.

GIF from "Doctor Horrible's Sing-Along Blog."

We know that mammals feed their young with milk from their own bodies, and we know that whales are mammals. But the logistics of how some whales make breastfeeding happen has been a bit of a mystery for scientists. Such has been the case with sperm whales.

Sperm whales are uniquely shaped, with humongous, block-shaped heads that house the largest brains in the animal world. Like other cetaceans, sperm whale babies rely on their mother's milk for sustenance in their first year or two. And also like other cetaceans, a sperm whale mama's nipple is inverted—it doesn't stick out from her body like many mammals, but rather is hidden inside a mammary slit.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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