Monthly Archives: October 2017

Chum Salmon (Oncorhynchus keta)


Chum salmon (Oncorhynchus keta) are the most widely distributed Pacific Salmon species and can be found throughout Alaska. They range along the east and west coasts of the North Pacific Ocean, from the Mackenzie and Anderson Rivers in Canada to the Lena River in Russia.

Chums are often called dog salmon, but experts disagree about the origin of this nickname. Some believe chums are called dogs because, in the Arctic, Northwestern, and Interior parts of Alaska, chums were and still are traditionally dried and used as a winter food supply for both humans and dogs. Others argue they are called dog salmon because of the enlarged “canine” teeth the males develop during the spawning season.

Chum salmon are the second-largest Pacific Salmon species. Only Chinook (King Salmon) grow bigger. An average adult chum salmon weighs between 8 and 15 lbs. (3.6 to 6.8 kg), but they can grow as large as 45lbs. (20 kg). During their marine phase, chums are dark metallic blue on the back and silver on the sides and belly. Tiny dark specks may be present, but chums do not have large spots like those on Chinook, coho, and pink salmon. The tail of a chum salmon is highly forked, lacks spots, and has silver streaks along the fin rays.

When chums enter fresh water on the return to their spawning streams, males darken to what is often described as a calico pattern. They turn a dark olive brown and have red to purple, wavy, vertical stripes. They also develop hooked jaws called a kype lined with large, sharp teeth. Females turn brown and have a dark, thick, horizontal bar running along the lateral line. Females also develop a hooked jaw with large teeth, but the jaw is less pronounced than it is in males.

There are two, distinct races of chum salmon that spawn at different times. Summer chums spawn in early to mid-summer, and fall chums, as their name suggests, spawn later in the autumn. Chum salmon usually spawn at the mouth or in the lower sections of a stream or river, but in large river systems, they may travel as far as 2000 miles (3219 km) upriver to spawn.

When spawning, a female chum digs a nest in the gravel of the streambed. She then deposits her eggs in the nest while one or more males release sperm to fertilize the eggs. The female may dig more nests upstream from the first nest, depositing her eggs in the nests until her eggs are gone. A group of nests is called a redd, and a female guards her redd until she becomes weak and dies.

Chum salmon eggs hatch after three to four months. The alevin that emerges from the egg remains in the gravel, receiving nutrients from its yolk sac for 60 to 90 days. When it emerges, a chum salmon fry is dark greenish-brown on the back and iridescent green below the lateral line. It also has 8-12 vertical, spaced parr marks on the upper half of its body, not extending below the lateral line.

Fry begin migrating downstream to the ocean within a few days to a few weeks after emergence when they are only one to two inches long. Young chums spend several months near shore before traveling to the open ocean. They stay in the ocean three to four years where they grow to a size of 8 to 15 lbs. (3.6-6.8 kg) or larger. They grow the fastest during their last year in the ocean. Like other Pacific Salmon, chums return to spawn in the stream or river where they were born, and after spawning, they die.

Juvenile chum salmon eat crustaceans, insects, and young herring. Adults feed on copepods, tunicates, mollusks, and fish. When adults return to fresh water to spawn, they stop eating, and their digestive tract deteriorates.

Chum salmon rank second to pink salmon in average annual catch in Alaska’s commercial fishery. Chum-salmon meat is commercially the least valued of the salmon species, and commercial fishermen are paid less or the same for chums as they are for pink salmon. Chum-salmon eggs, though, are the largest and most valuable of any salmon eggs and are sold in Japan as ikura salmon caviar. Chums are not usually targeted by sports anglers because they rarely aggressively attack a lure.

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Is a serial killer stalking women on Kodiak Island? My novel,  The Fisherman’s Daughter, is available for pre-order!


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Pre-Order The Fisherman’s Daughter

 

I am thrilled to announce the e-book of my new novel, The Fisherman’s Daughter is now available for pre-order on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other online booksellers. Here is a short synopsis of the novel:

Seventeen-year-old Deanna Kerr fights to start her outboard engine as storm-tossed waves fill her boat with water. Panicked and crying, relief spreads through Deanna when a boat approaches her. She believes she is about to be rescued. Four months later, Deanna’s bones are found in a pile of kelp on the beach. Her ankles are wired together, and her skull crushed.

Alaska State Trooper Sergeant Dan Patterson fears a serial killer is stalking women on Kodiak. Including Deanna Kerr, three women have been murdered on the island in the past six months.  When a park ranger discovers the body of a fourth woman dumped in the park in the middle of a blizzard, Patterson contacts the FBI and requests their assistance.

FBI, Special Agent Nick Morgan has been to Kodiak before on another case, and he volunteers to return to the fascinating island and its unique, independent people. He knows he also accepted this assignment because he hopes to see Dr. Jane Marcus, a woman he met on his previous trip to the island and hasn’t been able to stop thinking about since then.

Morgan flies into Kodiak on an icy, December day to offer his assistance to the investigation. Only 13,500 people live on Kodiak Island, but Morgan soon realizes the list of suspects for these crimes is long. Could the killer be the crab boat captain who knew Deanna Kerr and was the last person seen with one of the other victims, or is the murderer one of the coaches at the high school or the strange assistant coach who seems to have an unhealthy relationship with children? The killer could also be someone related to one of the victims. Morgan believes the killer is a person the victims had no reason to fear and he thinks they willingly met with him. As the investigation proceeds, Patterson begins to worry the murderer could be a police officer or a trooper and may even be one of the members of his task force.

When the murderer strikes again, tensions escalate, and Patterson and Morgan know they must catch this monster before another woman dies or before the killer leaves the island and begins preying on women somewhere else.

The Fisherman’s Daughter will be released as an e-book on October 17th, and the print version will be released on November 1st. If you are planning to buy an e-book of The Fisherman’s Daughter, it will help boost the book’s ratings if you pre-order it. As always thank you for your support!

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The Pink Salmon Return

 

The pink salmon return to Kodiak was huge this summer, boosting the local economy, providing food for animals ranging from seagulls to killer whales, and offering a fish and wildlife lover like me a thrill.

I consider the life cycle of a Pacific salmon to be one of nature’s most fascinating enigmas, and I often wonder how a fish evolved such a complicated existence. Salmon face so many perils in their short lives; I’m amazed any of them manage to make it back to their birth streams to spawn.

Salmon lay their eggs in the late summer or early fall, just before the rainiest part of the year here on Kodiak. We often have rain for several days in a row in September and October, swelling the small streams and rivers to more than twice their natural size. The force of this excess water rushing downstream can wash the eggs from their nests before they have a chance to hatch. The flooding may also cause the river to change course, and when the flooding subsides, salmon nests that were previously underwater might now lie in a dry streambed.

A harsh winter can freeze the lower parts of a steam, killing the eggs or the small alevins after they hatch. Ice can also scour a river, taking salmon eggs with it as it moves downstream to the ocean.

Once a fry emerges from the gravel of the streambed, it is a tasty morsel for nearly any fish bigger than it is. It must sneak downstream at night and huddle with other young salmon nearshore in the ocean while it grows and readies itself for a trip to sea.

As a salmon grows larger, its chances for survival improve, and in the open ocean, it has fewer predators. Once a salmon begins its migration back to shore toward its home stream to spawn, though, everything wants to eat it. A pink salmon must dodge seals, porpoises, sea lions, sharks, killer whales, halibut, eagles, bears, humans, and other predators. It is not uncommon for us to catch a salmon while sport fishing and find the fish has marks on it from a commercial fishing net or a seal bite. I always feel bad for a fish that has escaped a net or a seal only to be caught by us.

While a salmon swims this gauntlet of predators on its return to spawn in its birth stream, it is undergoing incredible physiological transformations. Its color and shape changes, its kidneys must adapt from a saltwater environment to a freshwater stream, and it stops eating while its digestive system degrades. During the last few weeks of its life when it enters its natal stream to spawn, the salmon must draw on its stored energy reserves. After it spawns, its organs shut down, and the salmon dies a slow, ugly death.

I look at a salmon in the river in the fall. It is often covered with fungus and is so weak it can no longer swim against the current. While it is a sad sight, I can’t help but admire the fish. It made it home to spawn. It may not look like it, but this salmon is a survivor!

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I am excited to announce the e-book of my novel, The Fisherman’s Daughteris now available for pre-order.  

                                                                  

Be sure to sign up for my free newsletter about true crime in Alaska.

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