News / Science & Technology

    The Salmon Show, Live from Alaska

    A sockeye salmon scurries through shallow water in the Adams River in British Columbia, Canada, Oct. 11, 2006.
    A sockeye salmon scurries through shallow water in the Adams River in British Columbia, Canada, Oct. 11, 2006.
    Megan McGrath
    In streams winding through Alaska's Tongass National Forest, the largest national forest in the United States, the salmon are running.
     
    They do this every year: the adult fish struggle upstream, sometimes hundreds of kilometers from the ocean.  They are going back to the freshwater streambeds where they hatched years earlier.  There they will mate, lay their own eggs and die. 

    Watch the Migration Show Live
     

    Every year, the U.S. Forest Service puts a camera in the water to capture the salmon's journey.
     
    “These fish come right up to the camera sometimes," said Tongass National Forest biologist Pete Schneider. "You get to see how they chase other fish away, or you can see them digging their nests in the rocks and gravel.  You can be at their level and look at them almost eye to eye."
     
    Schneider has been running the salmon cam every year since 1997.  This year, he has put it in Steep Creek, where sockeye salmon mate and lay their eggs. The camera shows bright red and green sockeye pairing up and swimming endlessly against the stream's current.
     
    Sockeye is a particularly delicious species of salmon, though the fish can be difficult to catch. “Their meat is highly prized, it keeps very well, so a lot of the native tribes would seek out sockeye in particular because it cans and smokes very well," said Schneider.
     
    Humans aren't the only ones who go after sockeye. After the salmon have spawned, they die in Steep Creek, and the forest's predators all come to the stream for the feast.  Grizzly bears, bald eagles and even wolves thrive on the fish. But salmon are a keystone species - the entire coastal ecosystem depends on them.
     
    “It goes beyond just the eagle and the bear and the humans," Schneider said. "It feeds the insects and the plants, and the soils benefit from it, and all the microbes and invertebrates - they all indirectly benefit from the salmon.”
     
    The salmon's bodies fertilize the stream banks and nourish the forest.  Later, when the eggs hatch, small fish and animals will feed on the fry.  The young salmon travel downstream to the ocean, where they become prey for larger fish, seagulls, seals, whales and fishermen.   In a few years, the cycle will start again, and the surviving salmon will battle upstream once more.
     
    The salmon cam is hosted by the U.S. Forest Service.

    You May Like

    Top US General: Turkish Media Report ‘Absurd'

    General Dunford rejects ‘irresponsible' claims of coup involvement by former four-star Army General Campbell, who led NATO forces in Afghanistan before retiring earlier this year

    Video Saving Ethiopian Children Thought to Be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at efforts of one African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children

    Protests Over Western Troops Threaten Libyan 'Unity' Government

    Fears mount that Islamist foes of ‘unity' government plan to declare a revolutionaries' council in Tripoli

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Cranksy from: USA
    July 25, 2013 2:51 AM
    Why do salmon ( some species only I think) die after they spawn? I have researched this question in the past, but I didn't get very far. If any ichthyologist or serious amateur reads this, please give some degree of explanation of the cause of death.
    In Response

    by: Cranksy from: USA
    August 03, 2013 1:04 PM
    Pete Schneider, thanks again. Your second reply is closer to the intent of my original question why do salmon die after they spawn. I was asking for a pathologist's sort of answer. You wrote they [salmon] stop eating once entering fresh water. A guess, but only a guess, is that they die of starvation.
    In Response

    by: Pete Schneider from: Juneau, Alaska
    August 01, 2013 7:44 PM
    On this system, the black bears usually get first crack at the returning salmon. Once the salmon become plentiful, the bears begin to "high-grade" and focus on pre-spawned female salmon. They are after the eggs. We commonly see female fish with only their belly eaten. They also like the fat-rich brains. Bears are joined by river otters and mink as the primary mammals on this system. Bald eagles, ravens, and crows are usually next in line and often go for the eyes first, then any remaining flesh.

    Regarding being edible for humans- it depends how hungry you are. A rule of thumb up here for sport fishing is to get the salmon when they are still bright (silver) from the ocean. The quality of their meat decreases once they obtain their full spawning colors. Since they stop eating once entering fresh water, they rely on their fat reserves and muscle tissue for energy on the spawning grounds.
    In Response

    by: Cranksy from: USA
    July 31, 2013 12:48 AM
    Hi Pete, and thank you. A component of your reply is ...[S]cavengers have consumed the carcasses.... Do mammals eat them? Are they edible for human beings when they are dying and/or dead?
    In Response

    by: Pete Schneider from: Juneau, Alaska
    July 30, 2013 12:39 PM
    Death after spawning is one of the characteristics that make a salmon a salmon. Salmon have evolved with this basic mechanism in their lifecycle which works for them and it is actually very beneficial to their young. Unlike most mammals, birds, and some reptiles, most fish can't or don't "care" for their young in any manner. Salmon compensate for this somewhat by producing numerous offspring. Less than 5% of the eggs laid will survive to reproduce. By dying on the spawning grounds, the salmon indirectly benefit their young (and the young of their cohorts) with literally all they have- their bodies. Their nutrient-rich bodies support the ecosystem by fertilizing the stream and adjacent stream banks. Once scavengers have consumed the carcasses, plants, fungi, microbes, and insects all utilize whatever is left. This creates a robust ecosystem foundation that will, in turn, benefit the salmon fry once they emerge in the spring from their gravel nests. Healthy plant and insect populations provide shade, cover, clean and cool water, and a food base for the growing juvenile salmon. It makes for a perfect cycle as the adult fish move out of the way for the next generation.
    In Response

    by: Yoshi from: Sapporo
    July 25, 2013 6:04 PM
    Hi, Crankcy, how do you do. I have never think about it. I also wonder why and can not find an answer. Could someone inform us?

    by: Yoshi from: Sapporo
    July 24, 2013 8:20 PM
    Oh, it is already time for salmon to start migration in Alaska. Some of them must be native of Hokkaidou, northern part of Japan. We are looking forward to welcomig them this autumn in their native rivers and wish good lick to spawn fry.

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunitiesi
    X
    VOA News
    July 25, 2016 5:09 PM
    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Calm the Waters: US Doubles Down Diplomatic Efforts in ASEAN Meetings

    The United States is redoubling diplomatic efforts and looking to upcoming regional meetings to calm the waters after an international tribunal invalidated the legal basis of Beijing's extensive claims in the South China Sea. VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching has the story.
    Video

    Video Four Brother Goats Arrive in Brooklyn on a Mission

    While it's unusual to see farm animals in cities, it's become familiar for residents of Brooklyn, New York, to see a little herd of goats. Unlike gas-powered mowing equipment, goats remove invasive weeds quietly and without adding more pollution to the air. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this is a pilot program and if it proves to be successful, the goat gardener program will be extended to other areas of New York. Faith Lapidus narrates.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora