See the salmon in Surf’s mouth? Surf is A66, a mature male Orca belonging to the inshore fish-eating (clearly) population of threatened Northern Residents. He was born to Sonora (A42) in 1996. While “Resident” populations of Orca also eat other fish species, their well-being is correlated to availability of salmon (especially Chinook Salmon).
Whales do not randomly blunder about looking for food. Nor are salmon flailing about arbitrarily. The fabric is so much finer than that.
For thousands of years, generation-upon-generation, families of Orca have depended on the same lineages of salmon. In these dark waters, the fish-eating Orca can literally sound out location, size and species of their prey with biosonar / echolocation. Females almost always share the catch with their family (Wright et al).
Salmon fight to return to the exact rivers of their birth by some pull we human have yet to fully understand. This flow is predictable and essential. This predictability provides ease of hunting for the many who depend on the silver flow – from fish-feasting Orca to human fisherfolk. Less energy is needed because the prey SHOULD be easy to find.
The salmon are guided to spawn so that, in death, they deliver nutrients from the Ocean back to the freshwater where they were born, even hundreds of kilometres inland. That is, if transit is not impeded by drought, siltation and slides, parasites and/or disease, or by lack of cold refuges.
The rich bodies of salmon will nourish the ecosystem so that enough of their young may survive to hold the fabric together. Their bodies feed trees, bears, eagles, song birds, insects, deer, wolves, and so much more.
By spawning and dying, the salmon also ensure their diseases and parasites die with them. Nutrients remain.
This web is made of a fabric of exquisite beauty and perfection, shaped by vast expanses of time. Weathered, refined, and adapted by slow change.
But, now, change comes far too fast through the actions, and insufficient reactions, of those who do blunder and act arbitrarily. We, the humans without sufficient understanding of the intricacy of it all, nor how we are attached to the threads.
Know that what helps salmon, herring, whales – is the fabric that holds we clumsy bipeds together too.
Not disparate problems. But the same life-enhancing solutions.
How powerful to see salmon spawn; to know their importance; to reflect on their journey and the perfection of their lifecycle that holds together so much life.
Back to ground.
Back they come from the sea to the rivers in which they were born, guided by forces we humans do not fully understand. Those that did not perish along the way (nourishing marine species) fight their way upstream but only once the river runs high enough.
More succumb along the way, the journey made all the more onerous when waters are too warm to supply sufficient oxygen.
The way home.
Males fight to mate, genes invested in future generations in a way we humans cannot replicate with salmon enhancement. Then they die where they were born, following the pattern of thousands of salmon generations before them.
Through death they deliver the nutrients from the sea even hundreds of kilometres upstream to fuel the ecosystem in which their offspring will be born – feeding trees, bears, insects, rodents, song birds, deer, human cultures, etc. etc.
Circle of life.
Through the death of the adults, the viruses, bacteria and parasites they carry will not be transmitted to their offspring. For that is Nature’s rule – that salmon smolts will not be in contact with adult salmon (a rule that is broken with open-net salmon farming).
To grasp the perfection and fragility of what has sustained this coast for so long, is to do better by our own future generations.
Related blog with further detail on the importance of salmon, their lifecycle, how salmon feed trees (and other vegetation) and my attempts at a Seussian style poem is at “A World Without Salmon?” at this link.
The attempted messaging in my little poem may be all the more relevant now with the threat of tanker traffic coming to our fragile Coast.
The good news, I believe, is that with such threats more and more of us are united in understanding that, while resource use is a necessity, it has to be sustainable. It is impossible to have infinite economic growth on a finite planet.
With sincere apologies to Dr. Seuss:
A world without salmon would be oh so sad, This is very important, so listen here Dad!
Without salmon, we will have broken the link, That Nature intended to keep us in the Pink. (And Sockeye, and Chum, and Chinook and Coho!)
Salmon bring the wealth of the ocean back to the Coast, Right back to their birthplace so without them – we’re toast!
Their bodies are gifts to the future – that’s really key, Delivering food for their babies and even the trees.
They feed fish-eating orca, sea lion and eagle, Wolf, seal, deer, shark and . . . an occasional beagle!
They help bring the tourists. They fill fishers’ nets. There ought to be enough so that all needs are met.
So little investment, so great the return. Safe passage, and food – this, salmon surely earn?
But, instead of precaution, loud voices at desks, Say, “Why it’s Nature that’s made this big mess.”
“It’s salinity, cycles . . . the phase of the moon! Or some other reason we’ll think up real soon.”
What possible gain would justify such a gamble? The cost of losing wild salmon would be so substantial.
Without salmon, grizzles stare into empty rivers, No fat salmon to save them from winter shivers.
The orca diminish without their Chinook, Peanut-shaped foreheads reveal this tragic truth.
And Bobby and Susie and even Aunt Myrtle, Are left holding fishing poles, till they turn purple.
Shhhh can you hear that? No, I don’t hear a thing, For without salmon, birds around rivers don’t sing.
The People of the Salmon were able to thrive. Dance, song, carvings . . . the wisdom to know what keeps us alive.
Salmon are the glue in a vastly connected web, Why without them big trees would even be dead.
Then, there goes habitat, oxygen production and buffering of greenhouse gas. Why to flirt with the health of salmon you would really have to be an . . . . (you know).
The survival of salmon shows how we humans are doing. Do we know our place on the planet? No. Nature is booing!
The solution is simple. It really isn’t hard. It’s not tree hugger verses resource user. Let down your guard!
Logger, storekeeper, teacher, and you under that streetlight! We keepers of paradise need to unite in what’s right.
Make a stand for the salmon, the whales, wolves and Coast. We all know clean water and food is what matters most.
Choose for sustainability, not short-term economic gain. Otherwise explaining things to our children could really be a pain.
Use vote, vision and voice, to help wild things grow. And when it comes to gambling with salmon – just say “No!”
Then, because a whole lot of us care a whole awful lot, It will be clear that BC’s natural splendour can’t be bought.
Since writing this blog, I have been asked “Salmon feed trees?”. Indeed, when they spawn in their natal rivers which can be more than a 1,000 km from the sea, salmon bring the richness of the ocean not only to animals but to plants. The nutrients from their bodies feed the trees and plants including . . . salmon berry! Animals like bears further the reach of salmon nutrients by taking spawned-out salmon from the rivers deeper into the forest where they can feed undisturbed. They eat their favourite bits and leave about 50% of the carcass in the forest which benefits the plants, song birds, and even animals like pine martens. Of course, bears also poop in the woods, which leaves more salmon nutrients in the forest. So the bears are like gardeners, bringing fertilizer much deeper into the forest!
It was initially Tom Reimchen’s research of the early 1990s that brought the knowledge of “Salmon Forests” to the world. He quantified how much salmon was in the trees by measuring the amount of “marine derived nitrogen”. That research has expanded to where nitrogen and carbon isotopes are measured to quantify the uptake of salmon-derived nutrients by mosses, herbs, shrubs, trees, insects, songbirds, and wolves. So while salmon don’t grow on trees . . . trees most definitely grow on salmon.
This knowledge solved the mystery of how you can have giant trees in a rain forest when nutrients get washed away by the rain. It’s the salmon who replenish the nutrients by delivering the richness of the sea through their spawning behaviour – just the way Nature intended. And of course, without those giant trees – imagine the reduced habitat and production of oxygen and buffering of carbon dioxide.
This makes clear how far reaching the role of salmon is; how interconnected the web of life is, and just how much depends on the health of wild salmon. No better man to fully explain this “exquisite interconnectedness” than Dr. David Suzuki. See the 5 minute clip below. There is also a David Suzuki children’s book called “Salmon Forest.”
I have also been asked, “Deer eat salmon?!” They do. They feed directly on the spawned out carcasses of salmon and also benefit indirectly by feeding on the vegetation that has been fed by salmon.