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Pacific salmon star in new Hinterland Who's Who videos

Randy Shore

The Canadian Wildlife Federation has released a new set of three videos starring the Pacific salmon in the memorable style of Hinterland Who's Who. (Screengrab/YouTube)

The Canadian Wildlife Federation has released a new set of three videos starring the Pacific salmon in the memorable style of Hinterland Who's Who. (Screengrab/YouTube)

The Canadian Wildlife Federation has released a new set of three videos starring the Pacific salmon in the memorable style of Hinterland Who's Who.

The public service announcements are timed to promote awareness of a research project designed to explain the persistently poor returns of Chinook salmon in the Yukon River.

"We wanted to focus on species that are both iconic and important in Canada's history and Pacific salmon is one of those," said Annie Langlois, the HWW program coordinator. "The salmon PSAs are being distributed to television stations as we speak."

A 30-second version uses the same mini-doc style and haunting flute music that became indelibly stamped on the memories of Canadian children when the series was first aired in 1963. Other versions employ a modernized style with different music and a young female host.

The classic versions of Hinterland Who's Who aired right through the 80s and 90s, when production of new spots was on a two-decade hiatus.

"When I was a kid I wrote to the Canadian Wildlife Service in Ottawa for the fact sheets just like it says in the PSAs," said Langlois, who was inspired to become a biologist. "I still have all the pamphlets."

"It's because of programs like Hinterland Who's Who that I'm doing what I'm doing," she said.

When HWW was revived in 2003, the modernized spots did not use the distinctive flute music, at least for a while.

"The videos aimed children use a modern take and modern music to liven things up a bit," she said. "But because of public pressure we brought the flute music back."

A set of HWW spots featuring the Atlantic cod, the Right whale, the beaver, the American bison and the Snowy owl will be released this year as part of the Canada 150 celebration of confederation. The PSAs are aired for free by Canadian television stations for the federation, which is a charity.

Three- to five-minute versions of the new videos are available on the Hinterland Who's Who website, hww.ca.

In addition to inspiring budding young scientists, Hinterland Who's Who has carved out a niche in the national psyche. SCTV and Double Exposure have spoofed the PSAs and a YouTube video of murky provenance features a wood spider being dosed with psychedelic drugs.

"I certainly grew up watching them," said CWF conservation biologist Nick LaPointe. "They were always on in between all the kid shows I would watch."

LaPointe is running a research project that aims to explain why the Chinook salmon has not recovered to historical abundance in the Yukon River.

Historic reports suggest that up to 10,000 salmon were harvested each year upstream from Whitehorse, but today only 1,200 pass the dam in that location. Researchers will trace the progress of tagged salmon the length of the river with acoustic receivers.

"There are people who think the dam and the fish ladder are responsible, but we don't know that for sure," he said.

rshore@postmedia.com