Sunday, 19 October 2014

Spectacular Sockey

     There are few migrations that are so valuable to such a wide variety of benefactors as the salmon return to their natal river. It is one of natures great annual events but even more spectacular than usual every four years. 2014 is one of these highlight years so we decided to drive to world famous Adams River, B.C. to witness one of Mother Nature's miracles.
Male and Female Sockeye Salmon

     Several million sockeye salmon (onchorinchus nerka) have made the hazardous journey up the Fraser River and South Thompson River into Shushwap Lake. They then move into the Adams River and Adams lake where they will each lay and fertilise up to 4000 eggs before dying. Once the adult salmon have left the Pacific Ocean and began the 800 kilometre journey to the lakes, they stop eating, surviving on the fat reserves stored in their bodies. Hormones triggered by the fresh water begin a major body transformation making a spawning salmon unrecognisable from the bright silver adults that enter the river. The dead salmon have transferred their body weight of nutrients  from the ocean environment where they grew up to the lake, river and forest environments of their birth. These rich nutrients will feed everything from microscopic plankton to wildlife such as bears, mink, otters, ducks and eagles to fertiliser for the forest aligning the rivers and lakes.
Providing for the Future

     I have seen pink, coho, chum and chinook spawning migrations in the past but this is the first sockeye spawn I have seen. They have transformed from gleaming silver to bright red with green head colours. The males have developed long, hooked jaws which they use to bite competing males who want to fertilise female spawn as they are squirted into the gravel redds.
     An odour of rotting fish is noticeable as we wander the pathways of Roderick-Haig- Brown Provincial Park which contains the Adams River. We have arrived just as the gates opened to allow visitors to this site. We enjoy relatively light trail competion and are able to spend quiet time observing the fish. We watch as fishermen wade the river fly fishing for trout. I wonder if they are damaging delicate redds in the river but there are no wardens around chasing them from the cool clear river. By late afternoon, we are tuckered out and satisfied with our adventure but wishing for a more solitary experience. As we make our way to the car, we are amazed by hordes of people crowding the visitor reception and vendor area. I am happy to see that so many people are interested in this spectacle which bodes well for salmon as a whole.
     The next morning, we left before daylight hoping to find a river where there are not so many people. We had a hint as we drove toward our destination the day before as we were forced to weave our way through a "salmon jam" on the highway at the base of Roger's Pass. We drove down a short section of former highway to a very secluded, quiet place beside the Eagle River. The water was more clear and much colder and contained almost as many determined sockey. We enjoyed a couple hours of total solitude in the company of the fish, the forest and a family of bald eagles. What a perfect way to salute the salmon.
Eagles Misty Roost

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