Wild Profile: Meet the Chinook salmon

Chinook salmon leaping up a waterfall By Tory Kallman/Shutterstock

By late summer, B.C.’s massive, mighty Chinook salmon is homeward bound, making the epic journey back to its native waters to breed after spending years at sea. Some fish will travel as far as 3,200 km, putting in 45 km per day. It’s a gruelling journey; they swim through rapids, leap up waterfalls, and avoid hungry grizzly bears. The entire time, they’re living off the fat stores that they built up during their five years or so at sea, feasting on schools of herring.

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Chinooks are anadromous. This means that they’re born in freshwater streams, move to the open ocean to grow up, then move back to their birthplace to pair up and mate, usually when they’re between three and seven years old. And then they die: because both Mom and Dad salmon burned so much energy migrating home, getting busy, and then guarding the eggs, they often both die before their babies hatch. The fry, meanwhile, may stay put for up to a year before heading off to follow the same path as their parents.

Chinooks are also called “king” salmon for a reason: they’re the largest species of Pacific salmon, and can grow longer than five feet, and weigh up to 110 lbs! They’re usually blue-green on the back and head, and silver on the sides. During the late summer-early fall breeding season, both males and females get a reddish tint to their back fins and tails. (Aww, it’s the colour of love.)

Sadly, climate change is threatening our Chinook salmon. Warmer water, lack of snowpack, flooding, and even forest fires and storms all have an impact on the species, either directly or by decreasing their precious food sources.

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