This Is What Thousands of Spawning Salmon Look Like

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Are you ready to see something amazing? While visiting the Macauley Salmon Hatchery in Juneau, Alaska last week, on a trip with the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute I witnessed a horde of 120,000 spawning chum salmon, a mass of fins and scales, all rippling together in an aquatic swan song. Did you know that salmon die right after they spawn? Here's what else I learned:

Chum salmon live for four years, and near the end of their life, they return to their place of birth to spawn. Four years ago, the salmon you see in this video were released into the wild by the Macauley Hatchery, where they swam off to Alaska's salty seas and beyond. (Some of these salmon were even tracked as far as Japan.) Now that they've neared the end of their life, they've returned to the hatchery to spawn.

As soon as the salmon hit the freshwater in the hatchery's bay, they stop eating so they can put all their energy and lifeblood into reproducing. Over the course of a few weeks or months, they'll live in this water and gradually make their way up the "fish ladder" — a manufactured series of pools with built-in steps meant to mimic swimming upstream. During this time they'll also change color, turning green and purple to indicate they're close to spawning (and death). Once these chum reach the top of the ladder, they'll spawn and then die, their bodies having mostly decayed by that point from expending all their energy on the spawn. 

Witnessing this process up close really was fascinating. I've never seen anything quite like it.

(Information for this post was gathered during a press trip sponsored by Alaska Seafood. All views and opinions expressed in this post are the personal views of the author.)

(Video: Cambria Bold)

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