Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Once in a lifetime

It's salmon spawning season in the Bella Coola valley.  Every river and creek is full of them, splashing and twisting, struggling against the current in water that often seems too shallow for swimming, leaping up rocky steps, catching their breath in small eddies.

I went to Clayton Creek to watch them.

The male develops a hump in spawning season.

I think these are pinks, because of the spotted tail.

Clayton Creek runs into North Bentinck Arm (seawater) just below the Bella Coola river mouth. From here, the salmon swim up a shallow, fast stream for a few hundred feet, before things become difficult.

Where the river meets the sea. Easy swimming.

At the first bend of Clayton Creek. Jumping practice.

And only a few feet beyond, roaring Clayton Falls and whirlpool. The salmon climb it.

Somewhere above the falls, the female salmon digs herself a shallow nest (a redd) and lays her eggs. Her mate fertilizes them, and then, exhausted and battered, he drifts back down the creek. The mother will hang around a few days, to make sure her eggs are safe, but then, she too dies and floats downstream. Some spawned-out salmon are caught up top by bears and eagles; some make it to the bottom, but they all die. Their work is done.

One didn't make it up the falls. She was caught and slaughtered, her roe scattered on rocks at the base of the falls.

A male. dead on the sea grasses of the tide flats. At spawning time, they turn red, and develop a hooked jaw.

The females are more subdued. This one has a slight hint of pink, and a bit of a curve in the upper jaw.

And out on the breakwater, sea lions sleep, their tummies full of fish.

One came over to look at me.

In the spring, the young salmon will swim back down the creek, into the wide ocean. And when their turn comes, they will return to the same creek, and climb the same falls that their parents did before them.


  1. This post reminds me so much of the time Roger and I spent up on the Olympic Peninsula where we could watch the salmon coming up Chimacum Creek. Your photos are so beautiful and evocative. The salmon life cycle is truly an awesome thing to ponder.

  2. Such an awesome migration to watch!

  3. Wow!! Beautiful area and a very interesting post. I had no idea they died after all their hard work.

  4. Lots of people have been out salmon fishing out front of the marinas at Powell River. I guess it has been a good year for them. - Margy


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