The Chinook Salmon – Gemini

Chinook Salmon

General facts about “Salmon”.

Around the world, salmon is popular for its nutrition and accessibility. It doesn’t matter where you live, salmon is readily available in most supermarkets. The term “anadromous” describes a fish that can live in both fresh and saltwater, which is very important to their success as a species. Their adaptability makes them perfect for aquafarming, fishing, and a little bit of both. You can find wild salmon in places they have been artificially introduced to, such as: The Great Lakes of North America and Patagonia. However, in their natural habitat they keep to the North Atlantic and the Pacific Ocean.

The term Salmon is used to describe several members of the Salmonidae family. Other popular fish include trout, char, and freshwater whitefish.


The Chinook Salmon is the largest in this family. The name is derived from the Chinookan people, who inhabit the Pacific Northwest of the United States. Other names for this fish include: King salmon, Quinnat salmon, spring salmon, chrome hog, and Tyee salmon. Its scientific name is Oncorhynchus tshawytscha, derived from the Russian name chavicha.

Chinook Salmon

The Chinook Salmon: Out of the Blue!

What is the size, weight & colour of the Chinook?

The colour of the Chinook salmon varies throughout its lifetime. They start life with blue-green on top, and black and silver on the sides. Black spots are dotted all along its upper fins and back. During mating season, they go through a metamorphosis- changing into a deep red hue for both male and females.

These are the largest salmon, as they can grow to be an average of 1 meter long. Some salmon can grow larger to 1.5 meters. The weight of this fish also varies, ranging from 13kgs to 50kgs. The heaviest salmon recorded was 57kgs.

Chinook Salmon

How type of vision does the Chinook have, and what sounds do they make?

As this salmon grows more sexually mature, its vision changes so it can see better in murky, darker waters. This night vision is a biochemical transition, which helps their ability to detect infrared light. The night vision eyesight aids them later when they have to fight, hunt, and mate.

While fish make subtle sounds to communicate with each other, they remain undetectable to humans. There is still unsubstantiated research to verify the exact noises a salmon makes.

Are there any special or unique physical attributes?

Male and female Chinooks are easy to differentiate. The male has an elongated mouth with a hooked appearance. Their back is also much more ridged, making it considerably larger. Females have a smoother, more torpedo shaped body, with a wider midsection and more blunt nasal features.

Chinook Salmon

How fast is the Chinook?

The best way to document a Chinook’s true speed is by measuring how fast they can swim upstream. Swimming upstream is what these torpedo-shaped fish were built for, so it’s no surprise that they’re efficient at it. Depending on the flow of the river they can sprint up to 40km/h, that’s about 11m per second! Overall, it takes this salmon 18 days to swim 400 river kilometers.

How do they hunt, and what do they eat?

Chinook Salmon are Tertiary consumers, otherwise known as piscivorous. Their diet consists of other fish when they are fully grown. However, younger salmon can live off of insects and crustaceans easily.

Who are their natural enemies?

As part of the food chain themselves, they are hunted by orcas, sea lions, sharks, and killer whales by sea. By land they are hunted by bears, seals, and fishermen.

Where do they live?

Chinook Salmon are able to live in a variety of waters. You can find them primarily swimming in the colder waters of the Pacific Ocean. This branches off into a range of freshwater streams in Alaska, Canada, Oregon, Washington, and Northern California. Outside of these areas, they can also be found on the opposite side of the Pacific, in Russian and Japanese ocean and streams. Human intervention has also made it possible for these fish to inhabit various lakes and farms.

What are their migration habits and routes?

These anadromous fish are born in freshwater but need to grow in saltwater in order to reach sexual maturity. This transitional journey is made easier by estuaries, which contain both salt and freshwater. Once they reach the ocean, they could spend from 2-7 years swimming until they return back to freshwater. They have a lot of time to cover hundreds of kilometers (up to 1,600) from their birth site, which makes for a long migration home.

Chinook Salmon

How can they travel such long distances?

Much like their cousins, the Chinook uses the Earth’s magnetic field like a compass to navigate long journeys to feeding and mating grounds. They also have dorsal and ventral sides due to their bilateral symmetry. This allows them to move through their environment with great speed and mobility.

These fish are also ectothermic, which allows them to use heat from their environment to regulate their body temperature. This is helpful as they can lose heat quickly as they change environments on their travels.

All about Reproduction.

After the female and male have paired up in the birth stream, the female digs a nesting hole called a “red”. In this hole she will place 3,000-14,000 eggs. The male Chinook will then release his sperm into the nest. Once this process is finished, both fish will guard the nest from predators. This process of protection is strenuous, as they are in a state of constant upstream pressure. Because of this, both parents will die before the eggs hatch.

Once the eggs have hatched, the juveniles blend into their surroundings through their parr marks and pale colour. It is important for them to resemble rocks in the stream while they are still small and vulnerable. This colouring will be replaced with darker black as they grow and progress to open water.

Chinook Salmon eggs

Life Span.

Chinook Salmon have a lifespan of 5-7 years. It can be as little as 2 years depending on environmental factors.


The Chinook people believed that Salmon became human when they swam out to sea. Then when it was time to return, they would clothe themselves in fish skin to present themselves as a gift. Chinook people still celebrate the arrival of salmon with the “first salmon ceremony”. During this time, they all share the fish in small amounts and then return its carcass to the river.

What threats does the Chinook Salmon face?

While populations in Alaska are healthy, the wellbeing of Chinook Salmon is under threat in various parts of the United States. These threats consist of contaminated/poor water sources, habitat loss, river dams, and overfishing. They are also an essential part of a bear’s diet and see a decrease in numbers there as well.

bears hunting Chinook Salmon

Why are they endangered?

The status of Chinook Salmon varies depending on where they are. In California and Columbia, they are classified as endangered. In areas of the Pacific Northwest they are considered “under threat”, due to their compromised breeding sites.

Endangered Ranking – ESA.

Salmon populations have declined vastly. What remains today is 10% of how many we used to have roaming oceans and streams. Now, only 22 of 37 historic populations can be found. But within these, 2 are listed as endangered, and 7 are listed as “under threat” by the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

Why should you care?

The Chinook salmon is part of a much greater and fragile ecosystem. Wildlife such as bears and large fish need to feed on them, and these creatures will lose an important food source. The survival of microorganisms will also be threatened, as small aquatic insects feed on Salmon once they die upstream. Their migration patterns from oceans to rivers also transport nutrients between habitats. Without Chinook Salmon the ecosystem would simply collapse.

What can you do to help?

  1. Ethical Diet: Farmed Salmon is a viable seafood option for human consumption. Diversifying the source and supporting aqua-farming in places like New Zealand is a great way to help. There are a lot of resources online that list the most ethical seafood you can opt for.
  1. Spread the word! Talk to family members and friends about what they’re doing to help the cause. Inform family on more sustainable seafood they can substitute instead of wild Salmon.
  1. Get Involved: Lastly, spend time signing petitions and getting involved in online spaces. If you can, donate whatever you can to organizations that focus on Salmon conservation.

If there is a public demand for change, then change will come. With everyone’s help we can create new standards for the ocean and all of its inhabitants! With cleaner oceans we will continue to see the Chinook Salmon populations stabilize.

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Bethany MacDonald

Bethany MacDonald

Bethany MacDonald has contributed articles since 2020. As their Blog Lead, she specialises in informative pieces on culture, education, and language learning

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