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Egg and Onward
Pacific salmon species vary in terms of their life cycles. Some spend hardly any time in natal streams; some spend years. Some mature at two years of age; some mature at five. Some live for only a couple of years; others live for ten. And some, like Steelhead and Cutthroat, can even spawn more than once.
Despite all this variation, we can still make some general observations about the life stages of salmon.
All Pacific salmon are anadromous, which means they start in freshwater (streams, lakes, rivers, etc.), migrate to the ocean, then return “home” to spawn and die.
Adult spawners often journey for hundreds of miles to return to the waters their parents spawned in, and where they themselves were born.
If they make it back, eluding all sorts of obstacles, the males and females court, and ultimately breed. At the crucial moment, the male releases sperm and the female releases eggs ... at precisely the same time!
The eggs and sperm float in a fog of milt to the bottom of the stream or lake bed where the female has painstakingly prepared a “redd” (aka nest), which, covered with gravel, will hopefully protect the eggs until they are ready to hatch.
While new salmon are preparing to enter the world, their parents die (usually only days after spawning). Their bodies remain in the water or along the shore to decay and/or be eaten by other species. In this way they continue to nourish the environment around them.
This salmon has spawned and died in the Adams River. It will continue to contribute to the ecosystem around it. Photo: Adams River Salmon Society
Chinook alevins hatching.
Inside the egg is an embryo and a yolk which feeds it. For a while, the embryo has enough oxygen inside the egg, but as it grows, it needs more. Finally it reaches the breaking point and struggles free of its egg shell, though not yet discarding its yolk. It is now an alevin.
Salmon fry are little guys, and they’re favourite snacks for many predators. Photo: Adams River Salmon Society
This Adams River couple has achieved salmon’s life purpose: to come together to spawn. Photo: Adams River Salmon Society
When they are sexually mature (see Species for maturity patterns of different species), salmon obey their homing instinct and travel back to their natal streams to spawn. It is an arduous journey, and only the toughest and luckiest salmon complete it.
Posted by Kiley Turner on 9/18