One of my favorite sight-seeing activities while traveling is witnessing animals in their natural habitats. I grew up as a PBS geek watching shows like Nova and Wild America.
As I started to travel more, I realized that I could visit these animals in their wild habitats and witness the behavior I had seen for years on the television first hand. There is a certain excitement to seeing an animal in the wild; – in the zoo, I barely blink as I pass the bighorn sheep exhibit, but if I see one on the side of the road in Colorado, I pull over to take pictures for 20 minutes and stare in awe as it does something as mundane as chewing grass.
It is for this reason that I was extremely excited to find out that I was visiting British Columbia during the salmon run, the annual event when salmon leave the ocean and swim up rivers to the place where they were born so they can spawn before finally dying. This was one of the quintessential nature scenes I had seen on television growing up, and I was excited at the prospect of seeing it in person.
The annual run occurs in the fall, though the precise timing can vary based on location. I was lucky enough to hear reports of salmon running taking place in the Goldstream Provincial Park.
We drove to the park which was only 15 minutes away from where we were staying in Victoria. Just steps away from the main parking lot I found the first river, but was disappointed to see only a few fish carcasses being picked at by the seagulls.
I initially worried that we had missed the run and that all that was left were these seagull snacks, but I decided it’d be worth checking out other parts of the park as well. We found a wide walking path and headed into the woods of towering old growth trees.
The colors around me were spectacular – deep emerald greens in the leaves and moss growing on the rocks and vibrant reds and oranges in the splintering and jagged logs that littered the forest floor.
Just as I was forgetting about the fish and losing myself in the majesty of the forest, I heard the noise of a second, smaller babbling creek. I rushed over to the creek overlook and finally saw what I had come to see – salmon fighting their way upstream.
There were still plenty of dead (or near dead) fish that had met their untimely end due to exhaustion strewn about the creek, but there were many others struggling and fighting for every inch against the shallow water yearning to carry them back out to sea. Pictures don’t do this event justice, so check out my video (a Travel Rinse Repeat first!) below:
[youtube width="800" height="533"]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xf1SYV1bDeQ&feature=g-upl&context=G26ec020AUAAAAAAACAA[/youtube]
Perhaps this is mother nature’s way of ensuring that only the strongest salmon pass on their genetic material, and before we know it, evolution will run out of control and the salmon will evolve to have wings or robotic legs to carry them back to their spawning locations (okay, maybe that’s a tad unlikely, but it didn’t stop me from creating what I think the super salmon of the future will look like one day):
It was fascinating to watch the salmon fight against the stream. It wasn’t exactly the dramatic scene of the fish leaping out over a waterfall only to be snatched by a grizzly bear, but it was still amazing none the less.
However, watching these salmon I began to wonder, how do they know where they’re going and how do they know where they were born? Thankfully, I had my good friend google with me and was able to look up the answers relatively quickly. Apparently, salmon use a keen sense of smell and magnetic clues to determine where they’re going. The earths surface contains a magnetic map with each location having it’s own unique magnetic ‘fingerprint.’ Salmon have the ability to sense these unique magnetic locations use them to find the streams and rivers where they were born.
Once they’ve entered the freshwater sources, they rely on their sense of smell, following unique scents they imprinted on their first journey out to sea in order to find their way back. Now that I know the facts, I’ll have to adjust my concept drawing of what the future salmon will look like:
However, I was left with one additional question that science can’t answer – why was one of the salmon swimming back downstream for some reason? My guess is he decided having salmon sex and then immediately dying afterwords wasn’t worth all the effort so he was going back out to the open ocean to live it up.
Haven’t we all felt that way at some point?