YUBA CITY -- Thousands of tiny Chinook salmon were vacuumed into a giant truck Monday to start the final leg of what has become a long journey for them.
The salmon have been seeking refuge at the Thermalito Annex Hatchery.
"This hatchery was literally a life boat for 5 million fish," said Andrew Hughan with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Last month when an emergency at the Oroville Spillway forced 180,000 residents to evacuate, millions of fish at the Feather River Hatchery were evacuated as well -- taken a few miles up the road.
"When the water started coming over the top of the emergency spillway the water in the Feather River became 'tribbed' is the scientific term, but Willy Wonka water, which wouldn't support fish life," Hughan said. "So we had to get them out of the hatchery and get them over here.
But now the annex hatchery is at full capacity, and it's time for the salmon to be released into the Feather River.
First the fish are corralled in their giant holding tank and then they are vacuumed through giant pumps up through a system and into a truck. Each truck can hold 250,000 fish.
"We constantly keep track of the conditions in the truck. So we are looking at the temperature of the water. We are looking at the amount of dissolved oxygen which is really important for these fish," said Amanda Cranford, natural resource specialist with NOAA Fisheries.
Then the fish are driven 40 minutes south to the Feather River near Yuba City where they are finally released.
And third-grader Sophia Nelson got to watch the salmon release.
"They are so cute!" Nelson said.
Wildlife researchers say the goal is for the salmon to survive for at least three years as they make their way to the Sacramento River and eventually to the Pacific Ocean.