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

Bleak China Economic Outlook Rattles Markets

Several key European stock indexes were down nearly three percent, while US market indexes were off around two percent in early trading More

DRC Tries Mega-Farms to Feed Population

Park at Boukanga Lonzo currently has 5,000 hectares under cultivation, crops stretching as far as eye can see, and is start of ambitious large-scale agriculture plan More

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Areas are spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, source of livelihood for fishermen and herders who have called the marshes home for generations 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.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs