Kids spotting salmon in Pipers Creek at Carkeek Park. Credit: Elisa Murray
See salmon run
What can your children learn from a fish? Plenty — about determination, perseverance, and the weird and fascinating drama of nature.
Every year, Pacific salmon travel hundreds of miles through the ocean, navigating storms and slipping past predators and fishermen’s nets, relentlessly focused on arriving at the local streams where they were hatched. Their purpose: to mate and bury their eggs in the stream bottom before they die.
In September and October, sockeye and Chinook (also known as “king”) arrive in the area. In November, chum and coho take their turn in fresh water.
By the time the fish fight their way into the creeks, their sleek bodies have been transformed. Males’ jaws become hooked (female cohos also develop a less-pronounced hooked jaw), and their silver scales take on earthier tones. Chinook darken to copper; sockeye turn red with green heads; chum develop reddish stripes; and coho sport green backs and red bellies. They no longer eat, and white fungus often forms blotches on their skin.
While they’re alive, the salmon battle the current to swim upstream, and compete with each other to win mates and spawning spots. They die soon after spawning, and as they decompose, their bodies fertilize the streams.
Where can you take your kids to watch this action unfold? Spawning salmon are clearly visible from a number of local vantage points. It’s a chance for your family to get outdoors and learn about an amazing part of the region’s natural cycles. And don’t feel silly if you find yourself cheering on a fish fighting its way upstream — people do it all of the time.
First salmon stop: Ballard Locks