Viral video captures fish tumbling from planes in Utah

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Last week, wildlife officials in Utah yeeted thousands of fish out of a plane and into 200 high-elevation lakes across the state.

The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) has been dumping fish out of airplanes since 1956, Live Science previously reported. In a video that went viral this week, fish can be seen bursting from the underside of a plane, carried downwards in a plume of water; the shiny animals then careen through the air towards the water's surface. The most common species dropped during these flights are various species of trout, a hybrid trout known as splake (Salvelinus fontinalis) and Arctic grayling (Thymallus arcticus), according to Live Science.

Related: 5 surprising facts about lakes 

Although this method of restocking lakes may seem violent for the young fish, because the creatures are only 1 to 3 inches (2.5 to 7.6 centimeters) long at the time of release, the wind actually carries them down quite gently — like leaves fluttering in a breeze, Phil Tuttle, the outreach manager for the southern region office of the Utah DWR, told Live Science in 2018. About 95% of the fish are expected to survive each release. 

During a single flight, the plane carries hundreds of pounds of water and can drop up to 35,000 fish, Utah DWR officials wrote on Facebook. Pilots fly just above the tree line while dropping the fish, or as low as possible while considering other natural barriers like cliffs and mountains, Live Science previously reported. Before the Utah DWR began using planes, people and horses would carry the fish up to the remote mountain lakes on foot; this journey proved more stressful for fish than being tossed from a zooming plane.

If the Utah DWR didn't restock its high-elevation lakes each year, the popular fishing spots would soon be entirely depleted of fish. The fish used for restocking are raised in hatcheries, and most are bred to be sterile to prevent a sudden population boom and ensure they have a minimal impact on native wildlife species.

Originally published on Live Science.

Nicoletta Lanese
News Editor, Health

Nicoletta Lanese is a news editor on Live Science's health desk. She first joined the publication in 2019 as a staff writer. She holds degrees in neuroscience and dance from the University of Florida and a graduate certificate in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz. Her work has appeared in The Scientist Magazine, Science News, The San Jose Mercury News and Mongabay, among other outlets.