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

Will Cuba Follow the Southeast Asia Model?

Decision to restore ties between US and Cuba has some debating whether it will lead to enhancement or regression of democracy for Communist island nation More

Kenyan Designer Finds Her Niche in Fashion Industry

‘Made in China’ fabrics underlie her success More

Report: CIA, Israel's Mossad Killed Senior Hezbollah Commander

The Washington Post story says Imad Mughniyah was killed instantly by a bomb "triggered remotely" from Tel Aviv by Mossad agents More

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.
Jefferson's Library Continues to Impress, 200 Years Lateri
X
Deborah Block
January 31, 2015 12:12 AM
Two hundred years after the U.S. Congress purchased a huge collection of books belonging to former President Thomas Jefferson, it remains one of America’s greatest literal treasures and has become the centerpiece of Washington’s Library of Congress. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.
Video

Video Jefferson's Library Continues to Impress, 200 Years Later

Two hundred years after the U.S. Congress purchased a huge collection of books belonging to former President Thomas Jefferson, it remains one of America’s greatest literal treasures and has become the centerpiece of Washington’s Library of Congress. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.
Video

Video Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unrest

Egypt plans to expand the Suez Canal, raising hopes that the end of its economic crisis may be in sight. But some analysts say they expect the project may cost too much and take too long to make life better for everyday Egyptians. VOA's Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Threat of Creeping Lava Has Hawaiians on Edge

Residents of the small town of Pahoa on the Big Island of Hawaii face an advancing threat from the Kilauea volcano. Local residents are keeping a watchful eye on creeping lava. Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Pro-Kremlin Youth Group Creatively Promotes 'Patriotic' Propaganda

As Russia's President Vladimir Putin faces international pressure over Ukraine and a failing economy, unofficial domestic groups are rallying to his support. One such youth organization, CET, or Network, uses creative multimedia to appeal to Russia's urban youth with patriotic propaganda. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Filmmakers Produce Hand-Painted Documentary on Van Gogh

The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Issues or Ethnicity? Question Divides Nigeria

As Nigeria goes to the polls next month, many expect the two top presidential contenders to gain much of their support from constituencies organized along ethnic or religious lines. But are faith and regional blocs really what political power in Nigeria is about? Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Rock-Consuming Organisms Alter Views of Life Processes

Scientists thought they knew much about how life works, until a discovery more than two decades ago challenged conventional beliefs. Scientists found that there are organisms that breathe rocks. And it is only recently that the scientific community is accepting that there are organisms that could get energy out of rocks. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports.
Video

Video Paris Attacks Highlight Global Weapons Black Market

As law enforcement officials piece together how the Paris and Belgian terror cells carried out their recent attacks, questions are being asked about how they obtained military grade assault weapons - which are illegal in the European Union. As VOA's Jeff Swicord reports, experts say there is a very active worldwide black market for these weapons, and criminals and terrorists are buying.
Video

Video Activists Accuse China of Targeting Religious Freedom

The U.S.-based Chinese religious rights group ChinaAid says 2014 was the worst year for religious freedom in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. As Ye Fan reports, activists say Beijing has been tightening religious controls ever since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to office. Hu Wei narrates.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Former Sudan 'Lost Boy' Becomes Chess Master in NYC

In the mid-1980’s, thousands of Sudanese boys escaped the country's civil war by walking for weeks, then months and finally for more than a year, up to 1,500 kilometers across three countries. The so-called Lost Boys of the Sudan had little time for games. But one of them later mastered the game of chess, and now teaches it to children in the New York area. VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York has his story.
Video

Video NASA Monitors Earth’s Vital Signs From Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, is wrapping up its busiest 12-month period in more than a decade, with three missions launched in 2014 and two this month, one in early January and the fifth scheduled for January 29. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the instruments being lifted into orbit are focused on Earth’s vital life support systems and how they are responding to a warmer planet.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid