Saturday, October 9, 2010

Sockeye Salmon Running ~ Adams River

Adams River, BC Sockeye Salmon Run
We spent some time at one of Mother Nature’s grandest spectacles when we visited the Adams River Sockeye Salmon Run.  This was the largest sockeye salmon run in almost 100 years and has been a great attraction for young and old.  The kids have been arriving in school buses, the tour buses come with world wide travellers and many locals have driven out to witness something incredible on this beautiful sunny October day.

Adams River Sockeye Salmon Run
Each October the sockeye begin to fight their way up the Adams River to spawn then die.   As sad as this seems, it is nature’s way and we can only appreciate the life cycle of the Sockeye salmon.  In the fourth year of every cycle, there will be over 2 million sockeye arrive, then the numbers will decrease the following 3 years.  And then the cycle begins again.

Sockeye salmon in Adams River
Sockeye salmon are blue and silver while in the ocean but they change color when they return to fresh water.  They become bright red and have a green head.  There are some physical changes as well, including the slight difference between the male and female.

Sockeye salmon nesting in Adams River
The male and female pair up just before she lays her eggs. It is easy to spot the pairing in the stream and she digs the nest by swimming on her side and flapping her tail. The nest is called a “redd” and will be about 25-30 cm (10-12”) deep. The male then fertilizes the eggs with his “milt” or sperm.

Male Sockeye chasing rival away from female
The pair would then move upstream as he fights off rivals and she churns the gravel, which drifts downstream to cover the nest.  The pair will continue this process until both male and female are totally exhausted.  By this time their bodies have started to deteriorate but they have now done what they were meant to do and will soon die.

Sockeye salmon eggs
With the water level of the river dropping, these eggs did not stay below the water so will be feed for visiting birds, I am sure.  But normally the eggs will lie in the gravel over the winter while the embryo develop.  The tiny fish will hatch in the spring and carry a sac of egg yolk attached to their belly for their food source.

Sockeye salmon in resting area of Adams River
As the spring comes and the embryo hatch, these tiny fish will stay in the gravel for 12 weeks or more until the food supply is used up then the young fry will swim to the surface to take in air to fill the swim bladders and can then start feeding.

Department of Fisheries tagging Sockeye salmon on Adams River
The Department of Fisheries use a method called “mark-recapture” to estimate the number of sockeye when their count is more than 25,000, which is too many to count visually.  There are 3 steps to this procedure, which gathers much more information than numbers, and once all the fish have died and been counted, the total number of fish that return to spawn can then be counted.

Sockeye salmon swim the Adams River, BC

The incredible story of these sockeye salmon can be seen when you spend some time at the Roderick Haig-Brown Provincial Park on Adams River. It really is a sight to behold and one of the many wonders of our beautiful country to enjoy. Just another reason why we love Kamloops, there’s just no place like home.

The peak of the salmon run does not happen till about mid-October so there is still time to go and see this wonderful sight. Follow the Trans Canada Highway east of Kamloops, BC past Chase to the Squilax bridge then follow the signs.