Seeing a Chum Salmon Run

All photos taken by Carolyn Treadway.

Moving to Panorama from the Midwest, I had little idea of what a “salmon run” was, nor of the importance of salmon as a keystone species of the whole Pacific Northwest coast; nor that salmon is essential to the entire way of life of coastal Native Americans. But I kept hearing about salmon.  Intrigued, I wanted to learn much more. Thus I eagerly signed up for an outing to see a chum salmon run, sponsored by the Panorama Green Team.  Twenty residents conveniently rode a Panorama bus to Kennedy Creek, a nature area north of Olympia.  Our trip was expertly facilitated by fellow residents Warren Dawes and Cleve Pinnix, who serve as guides for the countless visitors to this particular salmon run each November.  They led us to observe and understand many amazing sights. How fortunate we were to have such an opportunity!

        Surprisingly, our mid-November outing was blessed with sunshine. The forest was lush and beautiful with giant evergreen trees, mosses, ferns, and tributary streams. Chum salmon abounded! They were returning to the very stream in which they had hatched, probably four years ago, to spawn and die. These amazing fish were born in this freshwater stream, then, after a time in the stream and estuary, had swum into the ocean, where they spent their entire adult lives, swimming as far as 18,000 miles to the Asian oceans and back to return home.  How do they find their way? (There is so much more to learn…)

The creek and streams were alive with salmon: females using their tails to dig holes in the stream’s gravel, males fighting each other for proximity to a female ready to lay a thousand eggs, so that their milt could fertilize those eggs. The streams were also littered with the bodies of salmon that had spawned and were dying or dead, thus completing their life cycle. The salmon provide food for all species that eat them, and their bodies provide nutrients to the forests into which they are carried by those species. Many tons of salmon carcasses are deposited to feed the plants, soils, and creatures of the forest each year.

It’s an amazing, incredible ecosystem, which has been kept in delicate balance by Nature for millennia. But now humans and wastes that we create are greatly impacting that entire ecosystem.  Our wise guides emphasized the importance of clean, fresh water for the salmon and their eggs and young fry, because polluted water makes reproduction even more fragile or kills the fish.  Pollution, habitat loss, and climate change have caused great decline in the numbers of surviving salmon in the Puget Sound and the Salish Sea.  As a result, the resident orca whales (whose food is salmon) are starving and their survival is at risk.  And so on and on.

Ah, yes. As Chief Seattle profoundly said over 150 years ago: “This we know, all things are connected.”  Recent Green Team programs have focused on connections between ourselves and our local environment. For example, local storm water runoff carries toxins directly into the Puget Sound, greatly affecting the health of fish and all species therein. Being present to the majesty of Kennedy Creek with chum salmon churning in its streams, we visitors could connect the dots. Our pollution affects the fresh, clean water these very fish need for their spawning. Let us help their return to their natal home by decreasing our pollution, so that these amazing salmon can birth the next generations.

3 thoughts on “Seeing a Chum Salmon Run

  1. We enjoyed this outing last year, Carolyn. Thanks for the great pictures and narrative! We’ve also wandered along McLane Creek, a bit south of Kennedy. These are wonderful learning outings!!!!

  2. Thank you, Carolyn, for the wealth of intelligent information written for everyone, even for us who are not as familiar with the subject. Blessings on your endeavors. Keep sharing with us.

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