Identification: Sockeye salmon are found in the Quinault and Ozette River systems of Olympic National Park and historically inhabited the Elwha River prior to the construction of two large hydroelectric dams. Though silver in the ocean like other salmon, their backs are often a deep blue color, giving them the nickname of "blue-backs." Sockeye develop dark greenish heads and bright red bodies in preparation for spawning. Males also develop a humped back and hooked nose, or kype. Sockeye tend to return to river systems with lakes, and may spawn in streams or along lake shorelines.
Spawning: There are two significant runs within Olympic National Park. In the Quinault River, sockeye can be observed spawning in November and December in tributaries and in the river. A great place to see the run is in in the Quinault Valley at Big Creek, off of the North Fork road. Another small run enters Ozette Lake in summer and spawns along the edges and tributaries of the lake in winter. The Ozette sockeye are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
Young fry stay in the rivers from one to three years before heading to sea. They then spend about four years at sea before returning to their native lakes and tributaries to spawn.
Lake Ozette and Lake Crescent both have populations of "landlocked" sockeye called Kokanee. They spend their entire lives in the lake and are smaller than the anadromous version of sockeye. Lake Crescent's population of Kokanee is thought to have become landlocked when Lake Crescent was separated from Lake Sutherland by a massive landslide about 7,000 years ago. Lake Sutherland drains into the Elwha River, which, in the past, had sockeye returns before the construction of the Elwha dam. (Historic Range Map)
Conservation Status: The sockeye in Lake Quinault historically numbered in the millions, but are much reduced from a century ago. In 2007, less than 5,000 sockeye returned to the river.
The anadromous stock of sockeye in Lake Ozette Lake is listed as threatened under the Endanged Species Act. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) adopted a final recovery plan in May 2009.
Sockeye in the Elwha River are basically extinct. When the dams are removed, it is anticipated that the Lake Sutherland Kokanee population will contribute to the natural restoration of sockeye. It is unknown as to how rapidly sockeye will recover; projections have been made which hope to restore the population to around 3,000 spawners in the two decades following dam removal.