Monday, October 18, 2010

Summer chum - doin' the dance

Early last week a few PTMSC staff took a mini field trip a few miles down the road to see salmon spawn in a local stream. Salmon have a pretty incredible life cycle and being from the east coast, my knowledge was pretty limited. I’d seen different juvenile salmon right off our pier over the past few months, but these were just little guys and most were the same species -- pink salmon.

On the lookout for salmon at Chimacum Creek.
On our trip into the woods last week, the salmon were adult summer chum in Chimacum Creek. Summer chum had been declared extinct in 1989 from this particular creek. By 1992, efforts to restore the creek and it's watershed began, involving many private and public entities, citizen groups and hundreds of volunteers. Since then, Chimacum Creek, Beach and the estuary have been nursed back to health and record returns have been reported this year. For more information on the creek restoration visit: http://www.nosc.org/.

It was at Chimacum Creek where I first was able to attain a broader picture of the amazing salmon life cycle by witnessing their mating ritual. We saw the female chum digging a “redd,” which means creating an indentation in the river/stream bed where eggs can be laid. Behind her, males hovered, vying to become her mate. Eventually, a more dominant male won over and swam up beside the female. As she deposited her eggs, he released his milt. Voila! Let’s keep in mind that some salmon may travel hundreds of miles from the ocean to reach their freshwater spawning grounds. Salmon don't just swim to any old spot either, they travel to the location where they originated. The eggs we saw last week, if they survive to adulthood, will to, return to this spot to spawn. 
Summer chum swimming upstream.

The banks of this creek were strewn with decaying salmon who had already made the journey. At first I thought it unfortunate that they travel all this way, only to spawn and die but, it is all part of the salmon life cycle and important in its own right. 

We spend a lot of time at PTMSC talking about orcas, which are beautiful majestic creatures. I wouldn’t describe salmon as pretty, but they sure are vital to the Puget Sound Food web. They are a main food source for many marine animals, including the Southern Resident Orcas. And, they have a pretty cool story to tell. For more info on Pacific salmon: http://www.fws.gov/species/species_accounts/bio_salm.html.
Decaying summer chum.
Claudia Padilla, Summer/Fall Intern

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