The following is a summary of the Science Communication Symposium held at the 2014 Annual Meeting of the Washington- British Columbia (WA-BC) Chapter.
A timeworn image of a dam on Toronto’s Don River appears on the projector screen. Vanessa Minke-Martin’s voice fills the room. “The Atlantic Salmon of Lake Ontario were an anomaly, when we think about the archetypal anadromous life cycle.” With a single photograph and a handful of words, Minke-Martin, a M.Sc. student at the University of British Columbia, brought the unique life history and swift extirpation of this Laurentian Great Lakes salmonid to life for the audience. The decline of Atlantic Salmon Salmo salar
can be described with statistics, technical reports, and detailed maps, but addressing WA-BC members, Minke-Martin presented the extirpation with a captivating story. Storytelling when communicating science is beginning to gain traction across disciplines (Dahlstrom 2014). Minke-Martin chronicled the human impacts on Atlantic Salmon in Ontario. “As cities grew, pollution poisoned rearing areas and hundreds of mills and dams were built across tributaries, blocking spawning migrations,” she said. “In 1898, the last known fish was caught.” Eventually, one of these last Atlantic Salmon would be added to the ichthyology collection at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) in Toronto. More than a century later, this lone specimen would be used in the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources project to restore Atlantic Salmon to Lake Ontario. The story of the Atlantic Salmon was just one of many that Minke-Martin learned while creating a documentary, “Recollections,” about the history of the ROM’s expansive ichthyology collection. As Ami Kingdon, associate editor at Hakai Magazine (www. hakaimagazine.com) and speaker at the meeting said, “Stories are ancient. The power of a narrative about other human beings is incredible.” Storytelling and fishes marry well. Symbolic and enchanting legends are passed generation to generation among First Nations communities. Comrades share tales after fishing trips to the cottage. Why not present your fisheries research as a story? Turn bullet points on opening slides into narratives. Develop the story’s plot with methods and results. End your story with study conclusions, reminding listeners of the narrative that motivated the scientific inquiry. Presenters from organizations including the International Pacific Halibut Commission, Fraser River Sturgeon Conservation Society, Pacific Salmon Foundation, Coastal Connection Vancouver, COAStNet, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration highlighted the importance of knowing that one science communication tool does not fit all. Different audiences and publics will use different platforms—media, social media, or face-to-face talks—to get information. Understanding these platforms is important for optimizing communication efforts. Integrating storytelling and narratives into communication platforms can extend the reach and influence of the message. As Kingdon concluded, “People care about stories.” Want to develop your storymaking and storytelling skills? Be sure to read “Connection: Hollywood Storytelling Meets Critical Thinking” by Randy Olson, Dorie Barton, and Brian Palermo, and download the accompanying smartphone app, “Connection Storymaker.” REFERENCE Dahlstrom, M. F. 2014. Using narratives and storytelling to communicate science with nonexpert audiences. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 111(4):13614-13620