Salmon Spawn - The Return of the Salmon |
Columbia is home to five species of salmon, all in the genus Oncorhynchus. Their
life cycles tell a tale that has always captivated people, and we are witness
to parts of the cycle in the streams and rivers around us.
each of the five species has a slightly different life cycle, the basic story
is much the same. The young salmon spend the first part of their lives in the
streams where they hatched, moving to salt water some months later. They then
spend a period of several years growing to adulthood in the food-rich waters of
the Pacific Ocean. When their time comes, they are called back to the streams
where they were born.
being carefully released to
continue on to its spawning grounds
Their voyage home
is nothing less than epic, across thousands of kilometres of ocean. Guided largely
by smell, they return to their natal streams, some along the coast, and some far
inland along major river systems.
Their bodies now brightly coloured
and distorted as they prepare for spawning, they battle their way past riffles
and chutes, until they arrive at a familiar stretch of riverbed.
the males battle for the right to fertilize the females, and the females batter
their bodies as they dig redds in the gravel in preparation for egg-laying. When
they are spent, their carcasses lie rotting along the riverbanks, providing food
for scavenging birds and mammals, and cycling nutrients back into the ecosystem.
In time, the eggs hatch, and a new generation of tiny salmon begins the cycle
or Chinook Salmon, O. tschawytscha, is the largest of the five species, with some
fish reaching a weight of 50 kilograms. The declining Coho Salmon, O. kisutch,
is more associated with smaller streams. Sockeye O. nerka, spend part of their
lives in freshwater lakes, and have become famous for their return to the Adams
River in the B.C. interior. Pink Salmon, O. gorbuscha, have a two-year life cycle
that is so consistent that "even-year" and "odd-year" runs
are recognized. Chum Salmon, O. keta, is widely distributed, and easily seen at
some spawning streams.
now included in this genus are the Steelhead Trout, O. mykiss, and the Coastal
Cutthroat Trout, O. clarki. Both are sea-run fish, but are not as numerous as
Spent Chum Salmon
in Goldstream Park
salmon spawning runs also attract other wildlife. Bears gather at more remote
rivers to fatten up for their winter sleep.
Hundreds of Bald
Eagles are drawn to Goldstream, while a thousand may show up at the Nimpkish
River, north of Campbell River on Vancouver Island. Gulls gather by the thousands,
too, gorging on the spent fish. Goldstream is well-known for a small-stream specialist,
the American Dipper (Cinclus mexicanus). This dumpy little gray bird prefers fast
moving streams, where it dips, swims, and even walks on the bottom, as it feeds
on insects and salmon eggs.
and When to View Salmon in British Columbia
are excellent opportunities to watch salmon as they make their voyages upstream.
At Stamp River Provincial Park near Port
Alberni, fish can be seen jumping the cataract there. Goldstream
Provincial Park, near Victoria, has
an excellent interpretive program during the Chum Salmon run late in the fall.
For an up-close look at a hatchery program, visit the Freshwater Ecocentre in