Notre Dame PhD student Katie O’Reilly was surfing the internet in late November of 2016 and discovered an outreach poster from a Wisconsin organization listing the fish of the Great Lakes.
It looked to O’Reilly like an advent calendar, “as if there were these little doors you could open each day and get a treat.”
It inspired her to launch her own version of an advent calendar on Twitter using the #25DaysofFishmas. During the month of December, she introduces a different Great Lakes fish species leading up to Fishmas Day, December 25. You can follow her on Twitter at the handle @DrKatfish.
She admits that Great Lakes fish don’t have the sexiness of ocean fish, or the cuddliness of, say, a panda.
“That’s one of the challenges,” she says. “I’m hoping through #25DaysofFishmas that I’m able to introduce people to different fish…that connecting the two worlds, above and below water, can help people maybe not love fish but appreciate how cool they are and the role they have in the environment.”
The response the first year, she says, “blew me away. It was amazing to see how engaged people got with this idea of celebrating the diversity of fish species that we have in our backyard.”
In particular, O’Reilly loved how people weren’t just reading and sharing her tweets but responding with stories of their own about the Great Lakes, their experiences and memories. And it wasn’t just other scientists, she says.
“I was able to get Fishmas out there in a way that scientists and non-scientists were coming together to have conversations, sparked by a silly fish pun, but leading to a discussion about the health of the Great Lakes and some of the challenges that they’re facing.”
Four years later, a lot more research goes into #25DaysofFishman than that first year, beginning in August. But, she says, “it’s been good for my doctoral research.”
When asked to pick a favorite, she was reluctant. “I spend so much time with these fish that they start to feel like my children. I love them all in their own special way.”
She’s less reticent to pick a favorite Great Lake. Though it feels like a betrayal to the Lake Erie she grew up living near, she’s particular to Lake Superior and its “mystique.”