Salmon Facts: Intro


SALMON belong to the genus, Onchorhynchus. Steelhead also belongs to this genus, but are not considered true salmon. Salmon and steelhead are anadromous fish, which means they begin their life in fresh water, move to salt water to feed, and return to fresh water to spawn.

In their journeys to the ocean, some Idaho salmon swim as far as Alaska! Salmon spend one to three years as adults in the ocean. Learn more about the salmon life cycle here.

When adult salmon feel the urge to spawn, they know it is time to come home. No matter where they are in the ocean, Idaho's Chinook and Sockeye salmon head back to local rivers. Some must swim as much as 900 miles to reach their spawning sites.

spawning salmon

How do salmon know their way home? This is a mystery, even to scientists, but it has to do with . When smolt leave their birth stream, they store information about the scents of the stream, and they continue storing such information as they swim all the way to the ocean. In this way, young salmon create a scent trail to retrace in the future.

Once salmon arrive home again, they begin one of the most spectacular displays of energy in the wild: spawning. Picture this: the female hovers above a bed of gravel, facing into the current while a male hovers above her. She rolls onto her side so that her tail is flat against the gravel. With powerful flexes of her body, she turns her tail into a shovel and digs at the gravel, tossing it downstream and creating a depression in the stream bed for her eggs.

salmon laying eggs

The female then swims upstream a few feet and deposits more eggs. The gravel from this new nest will cover the old one, protecting the eggs from predators. One female will dig a number of nests and deposit hundreds of eggs in each one. Collectively, these nests are called a redd.

After spawning, the male leaves to find another mate, but the female stays by the redd to protect it. This lasts for only a few days before she dies.

three salmon

And that's a brief introduction into the life of a salmon! In this site, you will be able to learn more about salmon and their history, and also find fun activities for your classroom or home.

Find out why salmon are in danger of extinction, learn what we can do to help, and discover more about this rare and beautiful fish.

Learn more about salmon in these chapters:

Thanks to Idaho Fish and Game and Project WILD for all of their help and information. All information in these sites from "Wild About Salmon" is copyrighted by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game and Idaho Project WILD, 1999. Written permission was granted to use this material for educational purposes.
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