Nature Nugget – Salmon Migration

Along the Pacific Coast of North America lives a group of fishes that are famous for their long-distance travel. There are five species of Pacific salmon: Chinook, Chum, Coho, Pink, and Sockeye. Pacific salmon are anadromous, meaning they spend part of their lives in freshwater and part in saltwater. They begin their lives in the headwaters of rivers and streams where their eggs hatch and small fry emerge carrying a yoke sac attached to their bellies. The young remain in the gravel and the yoke sac feeds them until they are strong enough to swim in the current and feed on aquatic organisms.

The smaller species of salmon start migrating downstream toward the sea when they have grown to about three inches. The larger species remain in freshwater for one to two years before heading out to sea. As the current carries them downstream toward the Pacific Ocean, their bodies undergo physical and chemical changes that will enable them to survive in saltwater. Once they enter the Pacific Ocean, they disperse in all directions. Pink Salmon usually stay within 150 miles of the mouth of their home river or stream, while Chinook Salmon may travel as far as 2,500 miles from theirs.

When they reach sexual maturity, the salmon return to the exact freshwater stream of their origin to lay their eggs. They are able to do this by their unparalleled sense of smell. Each river and stream has its own, unique, chemical composition that sets it apart from all others.

The upstream journey of migrating salmon is often long and strenuous, with numerous predators and obstacles, such as waterfalls and dams to maneuver. Salmon do not feed once they enter freshwater, and their condition gradually deteriorates as they journey upstream. Pacific salmon may migrate hundreds or even thousands of miles to reach their spawning grounds, but only a small percentage make it all the way back and spawn. In the Columbia River system, the Snake River strains of salmon travel up to 900 miles from the sea to spawn in the high mountain streams of Idaho. In the Yukon River of Alaska, Chinook Salmon travel over 2,000 river miles, during a 60-day period, to spawn in the Yukon Territory of Canada. When the salmon reach the spawning grounds, they are bruised and battered from the journey and must now battle each other for nesting places and mates with which to spawn. Once a pair have formed and established a territory, the female builds a nest, called a redd, with her tail. The pair then spawns, and afterward, the female covers the eggs with loose gravel. The pair then move upstream a short distance and repeat the process. One pair of salmon may have several redds. All Pacific salmon die within a few days after spawning.

Just as the salmon must perseveringly follow the scent of their home stream to reach their spawning grounds, so the Christian must follow the light from the Word of God to reach Heaven. “Thy word [is] a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” Psalm 119:105. And like the salmon migration, only a small percentage make it. “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide [is] the gate, and broad [is] the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait [is] the gate, and narrow [is] the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” Matthew 7:13, 14. Unlike the salmon, the Christian will not die at the end of his journey but will live for eternity! “He shall receive . . . in the world to come eternal life.” Mark 10:30.

David Arbour writes from his home in DeQueen, Arkansas. He may be contacted by e-mail at: