Happy fish, sad fish game | BCHydro Power Smart for Schools

Happy fish, sad fish game

Let’s play a game to learn about biodiversity and the interconnectedness of species with the prehistoric white sturgeon in B.C.

Activity Image
40 mins


Let’s play a game to learn about biodiversity in the local environment and gain knowledge of First Nations ecosystems with the endangered fish called the white sturgeon. Students discover where these fish live, what they eat, who and what is a threat to their survival, and the importance of biodiversity for all of us.


What you'll need

  • “Happy fish, sad fish” game storiesprint one copy or view on a tablet
  • “Happy fish, sad fish” template, print and cut out one copy


  1. Pull up pictures of white sturgeon from Google or another source, and introduce students to this fish.
  2. Tell your students we’ll be playing a game to understand what is threatening the white sturgeon, how we are all connected and depend on each other for survival. 
  3. Print and cut out the “Happy fish, sad fish” template and the “Happy fish, sad fish” game stories. Take the handouts with you, power down the classroom and head outside to play the game or find a large indoor space such as the gym.

Happy fish, sad fish instructions

  1. Divide students into 3 equal groups. Ask students to space out in their groups with room to move their arms. Explain that they are all white sturgeons, and each group lives in a different river in B.C.
    • Group 1 live in the Fraser River
    • Group 2 live in the Nechako River
    • Group 3 live in the Upper Columbia River
  2. Explain to students that you will be reading aloud short stories about them, as white sturgeons; some stories help protect them and some threaten them. The game starts with students ‘swimming’ by moving their arms while running on the spot. Tell students you will say ‘freeze’, and hold up the ‘sad fish’ or ‘happy fish’ template and relate a story about one or more of the rivers. Students need to listen carefully as if their river is in the story they will need to sit if it's a ‘sad fish’ or stand and swim if it’s a ‘happy fish’. 
  3. Explain to students that sad fish stories mean the white sturgeon population is reduced, further endangering them, while happy fish stories mean that the white sturgeon is protected, and the population is increasing.
  4. The winner of the game is the group standing at the end representing a healthy sturgeon population in that river.
  5. At the end of the game, share with students how in our story, the white sturgeon are surviving in only one of the rivers. Ask students to share if they think this is really true? 
    • All the white sturgeon in all the rivers are affected by human activity, changing climate, changing habitat, lack of biodiversity, scarcer food sources and past over-fishing. We are all interconnected with each other and with other species on our planet. We need to take care of everyone for our health and the health of our planet and this includes protecting this very interesting river dinosaur.

Modify or extend this activity


  • Students can participate in these activities in school or at home. Play the game with an adult reading out the stories and have your siblings or toys act as white sturgeon living in the rivers. 
  • If going outside is not an option, the game could be played indoors in a large space like the gym.


  • Have students create comic strips with drawings and stories about the white sturgeon. Post them in the corridor so other students can learn about this prehistoric fish!
  • Pull up the "Hydroelectric dam speed drawing" activity and learn about how we create energy in B.C., and how this affects the white sturgeon.

Curriculum Fit

Grade 3 Science


  • Biodiversity in the local environment
  • The knowledge of local First Nation ecosystems 
  • Energy is needed for life: producers, consumers, food chains
  • Observable changes in the local environment caused by erosion and deposition by wind, water, and ice

Curricular competencies

Questioning and predicting
  • Demonstrate curiosity about the natural world
Processing and analyzing data and information
  • Experience and interpret the local environment, and identify Indigenous perspectives and knowledge as sources of information
  • Identify some simple environmental implications of their own and others’ actions

Grade 3 Social Studies

Big ideas

  • Learning about Indigenous Peoples nurtures multicultural awareness and respect for diversity


  • Cultural characteristics and ways of life of local First Nations and Indigenous Peoples
  • Oral history, traditional stories, and artifacts as evidence about past Indigenous cultures
  • Relationships between humans and their environment 

Curricular competencies

  • Use Social Studies inquiry processes and skills to ask questions, interpret and analyze ideas
  • Explain why people, events, or places are significant to various individuals or groups

Teaching Notes

Endangered species

The white sturgeon dwell in the Nechako, Fraser, Kootenay and Columbia Rivers of B.C. They are prehistoric fish and have not changed much in 175 million years. Adult white sturgeon can live to 100 years, reach 6 metres in length and weigh over 600 kg. They live deep in the bottom of our rivers and except for humans, adult white sturgeons have no predators. But despite this, today in B.C. they are endangered. The following are some reasons how and why this has happened.

  • The construction of hydro dams has affected the river quality, quantity and speed of flows. As a result, the turbidity of the water decreases, making it clearer. This leads to predators eating the eggs or fry before they can grow to maturity. 
  • Over-fishing of their roe or caviar, and trophy fishing in the late 1800s nearly drove the white sturgeon to extinction. 
  • There is a decline in food sources, both for the juvenile who feed on larval insects, freshwater clams and snails, and for adults who feed on salmon and eulachon. 
  • Industrial and municipal pollution has affected water quality and concentrations of chemical contaminants like copper, zinc and heavy metals have been found in white sturgeons bodies. 

In summary loss of suitable habitat, food, and historical over-fishing has endangered these river dinosaurs. For more information check out Supporting biodiversity and B.C.'s white sturgeon.

How BC Hydro supports wildlife habitats

BC Hydro uses the power of falling water to create clean, reliable and renewable electricity. However the creation of hydro dams has had an impact on our natural environment, one species being the white sturgeon. BC Hydro, partnering with others, is researching and undertaking remedial projects to help improve habitat conditions for the white sturgeon. For example the Columbia River Water Use Plan update April 2020 outlines some of these studies to better understand white sturgeon spawning habitat and development. The white sturgeon conservation aquaculture program has been releasing hatchery-raised sturgeon into the Columbia River annually and with great success since 2002. 

For more information, read the following:

Other interesting facts about white sturgeon

  • White sturgeons do not start reproducing until males reach about 15, and females about 25. However, when they spawn they can produce between 700,000 to three million eggs. Ideally the fish spawn in areas where the eggs can fall to murky waters at the bottom of the rivers, so they are naturally protected against predators. 
  • White sturgeons have a very low survival rate in their first year and have many predators. Survival rates increase significantly after the first year.

Indigenous Peoples

Many First Nations honoured the white sturgeon and treated the animal as an equal, deserving of respect, not something to own, buy or sell. Teach your class about the importance of inclusion and consultation with Indigenous Peoples when setting policy and addressing issues of conservation and protection of species. For example, many BC Hydro reservoirs are being negatively impacted by off-road vehicles, illegal fishing and hunting, and littering. A program called the Guardian Watch was formed to address these issues and take action. The Guardian Watch program is a partnership between local First Nations communities, BC Hydro, and Provincial government agencies to raise awareness about cultural heritage and ecological values on BC Hydro reservoirs.

For more information, visit the Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program website.

Youth can help

Electrical conservation is a key means to preventing the environmental impacts of increasing electricity demand. By using less and getting smart about our energy use, we can help preserve species, foster biodiversity and protect B.C. If we all work together, we can save our river dinosaurs!

Here are some simple tips to save energy:

  1. Turn off unnecessary lights
  2. Take shorter showers, preferably five minutes or less
  3. Unplug unused electronics
  4. Put on a sweater instead of turning up your heat
  5. Hang dry your clothes instead of using the dryer

Read more power smart tips on bchydro.com.


  • Assess students’ understanding and responsiveness to the threats facing the white sturgeon and curiosity about how we can help this endangered species.
  • Assess students’ ability to listen to the stories and understand how white sturgeons are threatened.
  • Assess students’ participation and cooperation in the game.


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