NPS Photo - Kathi Quinn
Salmon may be a coveted sport fish in Alaska, but in fact each individual salmon's life is more fleeting and extraordinary than you might realize.
In the Seward Peninsula, a salmon's story begins in the freshwater streams and rivers that connect to the Bering Sea. At first camouflaged for the river, juveniles undergo extreme changes in both appearance and physiology as they begin their migration out to the ocean. Their gills and kidneys change to process saltwater, and their coloration transforms to match that of other marine species. In addition, their diet changes from plankton and insects, to small fishes.
By the age of 2 or 3 most salmon are full grown. Remarkably, at this age a salmon will return to spawn in the exact same river it was born in; it will only spawn this one time and die soon after. Before death however, a salmon will undergo more extreme changes in appearance, taking on a reddish color and developing a strongly hooked snout and large teeth. Females will prepare several nests and there the eggs will remain for about 6 weeks before the cycle begins all over again.
Chinook Salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha)
Coho Salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch)
Sockeye Salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka)
Chum Salmon (Oncorhynchus keta)
The chum, or dog salmon, is widely distributed throughout the Pacific but occurs commonly around Alaska, some traveling nearly 2,000 miles upriver to spawn. Although their meat is not as highly prized as some other species, it is traditionally used as a source of dried food in the winter. Dog salmon migrate out to sea soon after hatching, and can grow up to 12lbs in their first 3-4 years in the ocean before returning back to spawn.
Pink Salmon (Oncorhynchus gorbuscha)
As the smallest and shortest lived of the Pacific salmon species, pink (also known as humpback or humpy) salmon weigh an average of 3-5lbs and only live to about 2 years old. Almost as soon as they hatch, pink salmon migrate out to sea where they will live for about a year and a half before returning to the cold fresh water where they were born. Unlike chum, pinks rarely travel more than about 40 miles upstream, except in Alaska where they may travel up to 250 miles. As you might guess, they derive their nickname from the distinctive hump that forms on their backs during spawning, larger than that of most other salmon species
NPS Photo - Kathi Quinn
Salmon may be one of the most iconic northwest Alaskan fish, but the rivers and tributaries off of the Bering Sea and Arctic Ocean are home to dozens of other species as well, popular for sport fishing and subsistence alike. Unlike salmon, many of these species spend their entire lives in freshwater, surviving months under the ice and feeding on whatever prey they can catch -- some, like the northern pike, even known to eat small birds! Get to know some of these species, and you might find a new appreciation for the fish life of northwest Alaska.
Dolly Varden Char (Salvelinus malma)
Arctic Grayling (Thymallus arcticus)
Northern Pike (Esox lucius)
Did You Know?
The westernmost point of the Bering Land Bridge National Preserve, near Cape Prince of Wales, lies only 70 miles from eastern Asia.