salmon facts

10 Salmon Facts About The Jumping Fish

Studying salmon facts reveals surprising information about these commonly known fish. Salmon are keystone species vital in their ecosystems, such as rivers, streams, and oceans. Exploring the unique traits of salmon species–like the wild Atlantic salmon, pink salmon, and Pacific salmon–reveals their distinct life cycle and survival tactics.

Born in freshwater rivers and streams, salmon travel thousands of miles and overcome obstacles to continue the cycle of life. Let's explore these salmon facts for a newfound appreciation for their species, abilities, and role in nature.

Related: Learn more about the creatures of the sea by clicking our fish facts and reading up on their watery homes in our river quotes and ocean facts.

10 Must-Read Salmon Facts

salmon in the river
Photo by Natalia_Kollegova on Pixabay

1. Salmon have streamlined bodies.

Salmon have a streamlined body shape that allows them to move efficiently through the water. This shape results from evolutionary engineering, with both ends tapering to form a torpedo-like body. The design of salmon enables them to swim at remarkable speeds by reducing water resistance, whether they are in calm lakes or turbulent ocean currents.

Moreover, their overlapping scales create a smooth surface, enhancing their swift swimming ability and making them naturally aqua-dynamic.

Interestingly, every part of a salmon's body helps its swim well. The fish's dorsal and pectoral fins prevent rolling and allow steady swimming. The caudal fin, commonly known as the tail, pushes the salmon forward, complementing their sleek shape to counteract strong currents.

This combination of form and function enables salmon to undertake incredible migration journeys, which we will cover later in our list of salmon facts.

2. Salmon can change colors.

school of salmon
Photo by Gillfoto on Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0 (Cropped from original)

These sea creatures can conjure up a spectacle of colors for camouflage, safeguarding them from lurking predators. Their silvery skin can reflect a rainbow spectrum of colors, ranging from cool blues to warm pinks. This incredible adaptation allows them to merge flawlessly with the ocean's surface, becoming one with the sea.

For example, the sockeye salmon undergoes a notable change in appearance as it matures. While young, it has mottled skin with a light color scheme. As it enters adulthood and ventures into the open sea, it sheds the juvenile hues and develops a silvery-blue cloak.

However, the most remarkable transformation occurs during mating season. The sockeye salmon's body turns a bright red, with a green tint on its head. This change signals their presence to potential mates, drawing them in and allowing the reproduction cycle to continue.

3. Salmon can survive freshwater and saltwater.

Salmon hatch their eggs in freshwater rivers and streams. These are also where they reside for the first few years. During this time, they undergo "smoltification," a comprehensive transformation that prepares them for life in the open ocean.

They have also adapted to the high salt content of seawater, using a natural system to maintain salt levels. Special cells in their gills prevent salt from overwhelming them, allowing them to thrive in saltwater.

However, the ocean is not their permanent abode. When the moment is right, an internal trigger prompts the fish to return to their birthplace, freshwater streams, and rivers. This journey is challenging and requires the salmon to adjust their bodies once more to survive in freshwater. 

Like sea turtles, the next salmon fact discusses a similar nesting behavior.

4. Salmon return to the river of their birth to spawn.

Salmon are excellent swimmers, which they show during their remarkable journey known as natal homing. One fascinating aspect of this journey is how they can return to their birthplace for spawning.

Scientists suggest that salmon use the planet's magnetic field as a built-in GPS to return to their birth streams3. The unique geomagnetic signals of their original streams are in their memory, guiding them back when it's time to reproduce. 

Another theory centers on the salmon's keen sense of smell. Intriguingly, every body of water has a distinctive chemical scent. Salmon imprint this scent in their memory in their larval stage. As they grow and embark on their sea journey, this scent serves as a roadmap, guiding them back to their birthplace when it is time to spawn.

However, there is a potential drawback to this navigational process. Anthropogenic pollution or variations in water temperature caused by climate change can modify these chemical markers.

5. Salmon can jump over waterfalls.

jumping salmon
Photo by Drew Farwell on Unsplash

Salmon undertake an impressive migration from the ocean to the rivers where they were born. This journey–a spawning run–is a crucial part of their life cycle. After spending years in the ocean, salmon follow their instincts and return to their birthplace. One of the most remarkable aspects of this journey is the sight of salmon leaping over waterfalls.

Salmon can leap over obstacles, which amazes nature enthusiasts around the world. The record for this feat is 3.65 meters, or approximately 12 feet, achieved through a combination of natural forces and muscular power.

Formed at the base of a waterfall, a standing wave, also known as a hydraulic jump, exerts an upward force that propels the fish upward. The thrust from the salmon's tail also contributes to this motion. A deeper water source also gives the salmon a greater distance to build up speed before leaping1, akin to a sprinter's run-up before a long jump.

6. Female salmon can carry thousands of eggs.

Female salmon, commonly called hens, can carry up to ten thousand eggs, depending on age and size. For example, chinook salmon–the largest among the seven Pacific salmon species–can carry over 4,000 salmon eggs. In terms of reproductive potential, a hen may outmatch a small farm.

A small percentage of young salmon (or salmon fry), usually around ten, survive to maturity, reflecting the delicate balance required to maintain a stable population, which ideally replaces itself with two adult salmon. Environmental factors, predation levels, and other variables influence this figure, which fluctuates annually.

7. Salmon die soon after spawning.

two jumping fish
Photo by Brandon on Unsplash

Our next salmon fact talks about what happens after they produce thousands of eggs.

Salmon undertake a migration from the ocean to freshwater streams for spawning. Once in freshwater, the salmon cease feeding and direct all their energy toward the difficult upstream journey. While navigating powerful ocean currents, salmon also avoid predators. 

Spawning is the primary focus of their lives, with survival and mortality closely tied to this mission. Female salmon devote their energy to constructing nests called "redds," using their tails to manipulate pebbles and create a safe environment for their eggs. 

Male salmon compete with each other for the opportunity to fertilize these eggs. This reproductive effort weakens all salmon, making them vulnerable to other animals. Some may not survive the journey, recycling nutrients to the environment. 

However, not all fish follow this life cycle. Steelhead trout, relatives of salmon, feed in freshwater, allowing them to retain their strength and return to the ocean. This adaptation enables them to mature for another year before returning to their native streams to spawn.

8. Eating salmon is good for you.

Apart from the indigenous tribes in the Columbia River Basin, salmon has been a famous protein source worldwide. Salmon packs an impressive nutritional punch, serving high-quality protein that supports the growth and preservation of muscles. This protein-rich food also fills us up, cutting down the urge to snack or overeat—a perfect partner for those looking to lose weight. 

But let's not forget the all-star nutrient, omega-3 fatty acids, found generously in salmon. These heart-healthy heroes do more than just look after your ticker—they serve as a wellness tonic for your brain and a cheerleader for your mental state.

By maintaining moisture and lowering inflammation, it can also improve our skin. Finally, salmon is rich in selenium, which can boost our bone health and thyroid function.

Before reading the salmon fact below about the role of these fish, save our article discussing sustainable fish farming.

9. Salmon are keystone species.

bear eating fish
Photo by Alan Vernon on Flickr CC BY 2.0 (Cropped from original)

Salmon are a lifeline for many other species and contribute to the health of the ecosystem2. This cyclic event nourishes habitats and ensures a thriving ecosystem.

Furthermore, salmon provides food for land animals during their spawning journey. For instance, bears can track the scent of spawning salmon and feast on them, while river otters can exploit the abundance of fish. Moreover, after feeding, these animals scatter the salmon carcasses across the forest, enriching the soil and improving the health and vitality of the entire ecosystem. 

Thanks to their effects on the ecosystem, salmon are keystone species, like wolves and beavers. Their presence or absence can profoundly impact the interconnectedness and balance of the natural world. 

10. Wild salmon face several threats.

The status of wild salmon is less secure than it may appear, as they face various challenges. While the IUCN lists them as Least Concern, they are not immune to threats. Exacerbated by global demands, overfishing and harsh fishing techniques are causing a decline in wild salmon populations, particularly the Pacific salmons.

Human activities also affect the habitats of wild salmon both in water and on land. Dams constructed for hydroelectric power and urbanization reduce the available living space for these fish, affecting their migration patterns and spawning.

Climate change is another pressing issue. Changes in water temperature directly influence spawning and migration. Additionally, industrial waste and agricultural runoff dirty their waters and lead to diseases. Moreover, farmed salmon introduce new illnesses and parasites into the wild salmon population. 

However, despite these challenges, efforts to conserve and protect salmon habitats have helped salmon recovery. Sustainable fishing practices are becoming more popular, and conservation groups are working tirelessly to restore and safeguard salmon habitats. As for government policies, the United States has also protected local species of Pacific salmon under the Endangered Species Act.

Let's all be part of the solution by participating in these efforts. Remember to share these salmon facts online to spread a new perspective about these fish.

Related: To further explore the animal kingdom, check out some of the other animals that start with S.

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1

Standen, E. M., Hinch, S. G., Healey, M. C., & Farrell, A. P. (2002). Energetic costs of migration through the Fraser River Canyon, British Columbia, in adult pink (Oncorhynchus gorbuscha) and sockeye (Oncorhynchus nerka) salmon as assessed by EMG telemetry. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, 59(9), 1809-1818.

2

Hyatt, K. D., & Godbout, L. (2000). A review of salmon as keystone species and their utility as critical indicators of regional biodiversity and ecosystem integrity. In Proceedings of a conference on the biology and management of species and habitats at risk (Vol. 2, pp. 15-19).

3

Lohmann, K. J., & Lohmann, C. M. F. (2019). There and back again: natal homing by magnetic navigation in sea turtles and salmon. The Journal of Experimental Biology, 222(Suppl_1).

Mike is a degree-qualified researcher and writer passionate about increasing global awareness about climate change and encouraging people to act collectively in resolving these issues.

Fact Checked By:
Chinny Verana, BSc.

Photo by Denley Photography on Unsplash
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