The Chinook salmon, Oncorhynchus tshawytscha, is the largest species in the Pacific salmon family. Other commonly used names for the species include king salmon, Quinnat salmon, spring salmon and Tyee salmon. The fall run (July through December) is taking place now so we joined our Roots & Shoots group for a special outing to observe these magnificent fish in the wild.
Chinook salmon originate in rivers from central California to northwest Alaska and are harvested in ocean and river habitats. The status of chinook populations in California and the Pacific Northwest varies; some populations are healthy while others are listed as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
Salmon live in the ocean but are born and spawn in freshwater rivers and streams. They’re extremely sensitive to a variety of natural and man-mande stressors, on land as well as in the ocean. Changes in ocean and climatic conditions, habitat loss from the construction of dams and urban development, and poor water quality from agricultural and logging practices are just a few of the factors that have taken a toll on wild salmon populations, especially in the Pacific Northwest.
We have seen a few salmon in our creeks and rivers in the past, but this was the largest number we’ve seen (at least in my recollection). It was quite exciting – we even caught glimpses of them leaping out of the water but I wasn’t quick enough with my camera.
One of my favorite books on the life cycle of salmon is called Salmon Stream (Sharing Nature With Children Book) by Carol Reed-Jones. I read this to the kids again after we returned home from our outing. Inspired by the perseverance of these remarkable fish, my kiddos have started work on a series of letterboxes that will teach others about the salmon life cycle. We plan to hide the boxes along the same trail we enjoyed.
I also created a notebooking page or printable for the kids to illustrate the life-cycle in their journals. You can download it for free here, The Mighty Chinook.