The Life of a Chinook Salmon on the Oregon Coast

October is a significant season for our local aquatic life! Considering our local shores are so dependent on these creatures, it may be fitting to do a case study on one of these animals, and take a glimpse into the fascinating and intricate processes of the animal kingdom!

It just so happens that in a few weeks, our local Chinook Salmon will be spawning in our creeks, so let us take a look at the life of one of the most significant fish in our streams and oceans.

life of Chinook Salmon

The life of a local Chinook Salmon, usually, begins in spring or fall, where they are birthed into an incubating, red or orange egg, typically under a rock–known simply as the \”egg\” stage. This process takes place in the highlands of our country sides–along a tributary of the Nestucca, or another local river. Often times, however, our Chinook Salmon are birthed in hatcheries. The Salmon River Hatchery, for example, offers our local Chinooks a safer trajectory into the Pacific Ocean–a process that you could observe from the shore, this very month!

salmon river fish hatchery
Observing Salmon at the Salmon River Fish Hatchery.

A Chinook Salmon remains an egg for six to twelve weeks, to which it will hatch, and transition into the Alevin stage. The newly hatched Alevin doesn\’t venture far from it\’s redd–or nest, if you will–nor its egg. The egg of the fish will stay attached to it\’s stomach, to which it will feed off of the nutrients of the yoke for around a month, before transiting to the fry stage, then maturing into a parr, about a year later.

alevin stage

It takes a Fry less than a year to mature into a Parr, the next stage in the life of a Chinook Salmon. This stage begins as the young Salmon migrate down stream, towards our local estuaries. It is here that they spend a year smolting, or growing scales, rather. They will feed and grow in strength, until they venture out of the river mouth, into the Pacific Ocean.

fish parr

At this point, our local Chinook Salmon are ocean bound! They may remain along our shores, but generally Salmon migrate North, up to Alaska, where they find feeding grounds with thousands of other Salmon. Chinook Salmon are unique, in that they stay in the ocean for eight years, before returning home–years more than any other species!

salmon fishes
(Newscom TagID: dbcstock024608.jpg) [Photo via Newscom]

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Chinook Salmon is their journey to their home streams. After eight long and hard years in the Pacific Ocean, our local Chinooks will venture all the way back to the Oregon Coast, returning to the stream where they were hatched. One of the great mysteries of the Salmon species is their acute sense of geography; something we may never understand. Salmon have a difficult journey home. By the time they reach their home streams, a Salmon\’s fat storage is almost fully depleted from the journey, and their bodies are prepared for spawning. It is time for the last leg of their life to begin.

chinook mature salmon
Fully mature Chinook Salmon.

Once returned to fresh water, the female Chinook Salmon are ready to spawn! The male remain by the side of the female until the moment she releases her eggs. At that moment, the male will release his milt, and fertilizing the eggs. These eggs are laid in the redd, or nest, that the female creates by turning herself sideways, and stirring up the gravel. After the laying process his completed, both the male and female pass on, and decompose into the stream, supplying the ecosystem a rich source of nutrients–an offering for the next generation of Chinook Salmon, that will follow in the footsteps of their predecessors.

fish eggs for laid