Over 30 million four-year-olds are running to their beds. Seriously.
We’re talking about this year’s massive quadrennial Pacific Sockeye Salmon spawning run up the Frazer watershed to Adam’s River. These desperate sockeye risk their lives in an unimaginable feat for a once-in-a-lifetime chance to mate. Their struggle is so taxing that they succumb to their efforts only days after spawning.
Everything’s mysteriously extreme about this deadly, life-renewing ritual. These large, once silver Pacific salmon miraculously transform to brilliant red bodies with green heads and tails.
Hormones make the males grow humps and snouts with teeth for fighting. By sniffing the water chemistry along with their almost 500 km journey, they find their way to where they were laid as eggs only four years ago.
At back-eddies, they mass up in teaming pools waiting to restore their energy to surge up the river, at times even having to leap out of the water over rocks or fallen trees. They fight for their piece of the river and their chosen partner. Males bite and grab others, flinging them away. This creates lesions that infect with fungus. Even though they haven’t eaten on this journey, they remain focused on fanning gravel redds (nests) with their tails to lay thousands of eggs and fertilize them. Once their deed is done, over the course of a few days, the adults succumb to their infections, starvation and exhaustion, then slip away with the current.
This year’s spectacular dominant Sockeye Salmon run is an incredible natural event that will amuse more than one hundred thousand spectators at the Adam’s River in Tsutsweck (formerly Roderick Haig-Brown) Provincial Park, northwest of Salmon Arm. It’s a world-class event. The Adam’s River Salmon Society coordinates the “Salute To The Sockeye” every four years with demonstrations and displays by BC Parks, Department of Fisheries and Oceans and local First Nations. This year they run 8am-4pm daily until Oct. 21. A $5/vehicle parking pass helps support the volunteer society’s efforts. Weekends are busiest, especially Thanksgiving. If you have to go then, dress warmly and go early. Please don’t take your dog. The fragrant rotting fish and splish-splashy commotion are instinctively too enticing for our canine friends. Read the excellent poster about these salmon on www.pac.dfo-mpo.gc.ca
Watch the kokanee return
Right here in our neighbourhood, the Kokanee Salmon are returning to their spawning grounds from Kalamalka Lake onto Coldstream Creek. The best spawning beds for viewing are in Coldstream Park behind Coldstream Elementary School. Interpretive signs describe their lifecycle from eggs to lake fish to spawning.
Merely 10,000 years ago (or less) Pacific salmon could swim up the channels connecting the Frazer and Thompson Rivers through to the Shuswap to Okanagan and Kootenay lakes. But the Sockeye Salmon became land-locked as the glacial-produced massive waterways in BC’s dry interior gradually receded and evaporated into separate lakes. With skimpier food resources, the fish eventually shrank in size over generations. Our freshwater Kokanee Salmon are actually descendants of the Pacific Sockeyes.
Everything about the kokanee lifecycle is on a smaller scale than the Sockeyes (as described above), but just as interesting to watch. About the time cottonwood, birch and aspen leaves show autumn colours, mature four-year-old kokanees turn into crimson “redfish” with green heads and tails. Hormones racing through the males bodies develop humped backs and powerful long jaws with hooked snouts and teeth. Females don’t change their shape as much. Thousands of Kokanee annually swim up the creek, until after Thanksgiving, to spawn. There’s lots of action, so don’t miss the show. Leave your pets at home. Join the Allan Brooks Nature Centre’s Kokanee Celebration on Oct. 10. See www.abnc.ca
Roseanne was a long-time Interpretive Naturalist and award-winning EcoTour Guide. Her extensive knowledge of the local environment, with a refreshingly enthusiastic passion for sharing the outdoors, helps readers experience and enjoy nature. Discover exciting and adventurous natural events, wildlife, best trails and wild places.