The Unlikely Heroes: Canned Salmon and Parasite Ecology

The Unlikely Heroes: Canned Salmon and Parasite Ecology

The world of marine ecology is a fascinating and intricate web of interactions, with parasites playing a crucial role in the ecosystem. While parasites are often overlooked, they hold valuable information about the health and dynamics of an ecosystem. One such example of this is the discovery made by Natalie Mastick and Chelsea Wood from the University of Washington when they stumbled upon a treasure trove of information in dusty old cans of salmon dating back to the 1970s.

The Discovery

When Seattle’s Seafood Products Association offered Mastick and Wood boxes of expired canned salmon, they jumped at the opportunity. What may seem like a mundane collection of canned fish turned out to be a goldmine of preserved specimens, specifically worms known as anisakids. These parasites, while potentially off-putting to consumers, are harmless to humans when killed during the canning process.

Anisakids play a vital role in the marine food web, entering through the consumption of krill and eventually ending up in the intestines of marine mammals. The presence of these parasites in the canned salmon served as an indicator of a healthy ecosystem, highlighting the intricate connections within the marine environment.

Through meticulous dissection and analysis, Mastick and Wood were able to track the changes in worm populations in different salmon species over a 42-year period. They found that the number of worms had increased over time in some species, indicating a complex interplay between the parasites and their hosts. The researchers noted a rise in parasite numbers in certain species, while others remained stable, posing intriguing questions about the dynamics of parasite-host relationships.

The unconventional approach of using canned salmon as an ecological archive opens doors to a wealth of scientific discoveries. By delving into these accidental collections, researchers like Mastick and Wood are shedding light on the hidden stories of marine ecosystems and the role parasites play in maintaining ecosystem health.

The story of the canned salmon and the parasites it harbored serves as a testament to the unexpected sources of valuable ecological data. Through their innovative approach, Mastick and Wood have uncovered a wealth of information that may lead to further insights into the intricate dynamics of marine ecosystems. It goes to show that sometimes, what may seem like a simple can of fish can reveal a complex and fascinating world beneath the surface.


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