Tag Archives: chum salmon

Will You Be My Chum?

We have five species of salmon on the Pacific coast. Some, like the chinook, sockeye, and coho are highly prized. The other two, pink and chum, are also delicious when they are in their prime. The pink has softer flesh and is good in a barbecue or steamed, smoked, or canned, while the chum is mostly used for canning and smoking. It is also being used for its roe.

After spending four years in the ocean, the chums will swim up a river to spawn. On their way from the ocean to the river,  chums go through  dramatic changes in the shape of their body. The head features change so the jaws are more curved and pronounced, the males growing teeth that serve them in their aggression and dominance over other males. This toothy look has earned them the nickname “dog salmon.”

The flesh also begins to break down, enabling patches of fungus to grow on the skin.

Here is one that has those patches all over its body. What was once a silvery salmon is now looking more like a barely living fish cadaver.

The chums make their way upstream, often in pairs. The female lays her eggs in a gravel bed and the male fertilizes them. Then, exhausted from their long journey, they waste away and die, littering the banks of the river and getting hung up on rocks and log jams.

Of course, in nature, not much goes to waste. Usually the eagles occupy these trees that overlook the river, but now they are the resting place for seagulls who have gorged themselves on the stinking flesh of the chum salmon.

There they are at the dinner table on the far left side of the stream.

On the opposite shore, to my disgust, I see fishermen throwing lures into the river in hopes of snagging the dying, putrid chums which are too exhausted to take the bait anymore.  A month ago, some of these chums might  still have made a tasty meal, but now? If you don’t want to eat carrion, why torture these dying fish?   Fishing, is a fine sport, but this???  This has nothing more to do with fishing. I don’t know what to make of it. Words fail me!

Below is a 13-second video of the salmon on the other side of the bridge from which these pictures were taken. The chums are most likely already spawned out but are still going through the motions until they exhaust themselves. You may notice that most of them are paired up. The noise in the video is, unfortunately, made by the cars going by on the bridge behind me.

 

Regal Eagle at the Deli

Sometimes when I drive by this tree at the side of the estuary, it is loaded with bald eagles, decorating it like so many Christmas tree ornaments.

Today there was only one eagle — an immature one at that. The rest were busy foraging below the tree  and up the river mouth at the Regal Eagle Deli. The last putrefied chum salmon lie like wet paper towels on the banks, exposed by the dropping tide.

Perhaps this one had eaten his fill and couldn’t stomach one more mouthful of rotten fish.

“Oh rats!” he says. “Another bird watcher.”

“I’ll give her my Exorcist pose – body facing one way, head looking the other. That’ll confuse her so she won’t know which is front or back.”



“Now, where was I? Oh yeah … urp … trying to digest that disgusting fermenting fish.”

Regal eagle looks for food, 

Fish again? Not in the mood.

Chilly air, he shivers high

In the tree so he can spy

Rotten fish washed up below.

Better eat in case of snow.

Leaner times around the bend,

Need to eat or life could end.

Though he’d like fish still alive

Choosy eagles don’t survive.

Fog and Fumes

I had not planned to stop. I was in a hurry to meet my sister and I had an hour and a half’s drive to get there. Already running late because I had to stop for a fuel up, I waffled over what to do when, across the street, I saw the fog rolling in towards the river mouth. I had made the mistake of bringing the camera along in the car. It was only my little point-and-click Fujipix (small and unobtrusive because we were going shopping), but it pleaded with me to stop and take some pictures.

In the estuary, a gazillion seagulls had congregated near the mouth of the river. I finished fueling and drove along, until I got to a convenient pullout just down the road.

I didn’t take time to worry about whether I was shooting into the sun or whether the zoomed-in picture would be in focus. I was in a hurry to get going, but I couldn’t pass up the mist wafting into the estuary.

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The more sensible shot was up towards the river mouth.

040aBut I couldn’t resist shooting into the sun and out towards the bay. Beginning photographers don’t care about those things too much.

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So I have a straight-ahead shot, one to the right, and one to the left. All that was left was a good close-up shot of all those seagulls right in front of me. I zoomed in a bit, but it didn’t seem to be enough. Those birds still looked awfully small. I took a few steps forward towards the edge of the bank and then it hit me.

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Fumes of decay! I rushed back to the car. NOW I remembered why the seagulls were all assembled here, making such a racket. They were squabbling over the carcasses of the spawned out chum salmon that lay everywhere in the shallows of the estuary. It was salmon spawning time; a bounty of food for seagulls, eagles, and many others.