Where to watch the iconic salmon’s lifecycle

No creature is more representative of the Northwest than the salmon, whose journey from mountain streams to the ocean and back boldly illustrates the cycle of life and the interdependence of species great and small.

“Some of them have traveled thousands of miles in the ocean and they find their way back to Bellingham,” said Lauren Murphy, stewardship coordinator for the Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association.

“A lot of people look at the Nooksack River and don’t even know that we have salmon,” Murphy said. “The most interesting thing is we’re one of two areas that have that all five species” of Pacific salmon: coho, chinook, pink, sockeye and chum. Each species of salmon “runs,” or returns to spawn, at a different time of the year.

“Sockeye and pinks are August to September. Best place for pinks is near Glacier, Thompson Creek. But next summer (2017),” Murphy said. “Pink spawn in the odd years. Most salmon have a life span of four to six years. But pink salmon are two years. That’s why they’re so small.”

Coho run from October to November, but are not often seen because “they’re using the streams that are not always easy to get to, not near a developed park,” she said. Chinooks (also called king salmon) run about the same time.

“It’s rare to see coho. I think that there’s some in Padden Creek,” Murphy said.

Chum tend to spawn closer downstream to Bellingham and are frequently seen in November, especially on Chuckanut Creek at Arroyo Park and Whatcom Creek at Maritime Heritage Park. NSEA hosts several open houses in late fall where naturalists discuss how to identify salmon and explain their life cycle and its importance to the Northwest ecosystem.

“Lots of people are usually curious about why there are all dead salmon,” Murphy said. “We explain that it’s not a bad thing. We like to explain that after the fish spawn and they die that it’s actually helping the environment.”

Bald eagles congregate in late fall and early winter to feast on the remains of salmon throughout Whatcom and Skagit counties. Decaying fish fill the water with nutrients. Bugs lay their eggs in the rotting flesh.

“It causes a big burst in the insect population, and the all the salmon eggs hatch and they eat the bugs. Yes, it’s really a true symbiosis.”

Check online at n-sea.org or call 360-715-0283in late fall to learn the time and location of open house events.

Robert Mittendorf: 360-756-2805, @bhamMitty