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Fish Facts  »  Chinook Salmon


The chinook salmon is characterized by a deep blue-green back, silvery sides and a white belly with black irregular spots on the back, dorsal fin and both lobes of the tail. It also has a small eye, black gum coloration, a thick caudal peduncle and 13-19 anal rays. For spawning, both males and females develop a reddish hue on the sides, although males may be deeper in color. Males can also be distinguished by a hooked nose and a ridged back. The Chinook fry look very different, with well developed parr marks (vertical bars) on their sides.


The Chinook Salmon is anadromous– born in freshwater, migrating to the ocean, and returning as mature adults to their natal streams to spawn. Freshwater streams, estuaries, and the open ocean are all important habitats. The freshwater streams are relatively deep with course gravel. The water must be cool, under 14 C for maximum survival, and fast flowing. Estuaries provide a transition zone between the freshwater and saltwater and the more vegetation the better because there will be more feeding and hiding opportunities. At sea, Chinook Salmon can either stay close to shore or migrate thousands of miles to deep in the Pacific.


While in freshwater, Chinook Salmon fry and smolts feed on plankton and then terrestrial and aquatic insects, amphipods and crustaceans. After migrating to the ocean, the maturing adults feed on large zooplakton, herring, pilchard, sandlance and other fishes, squid, and crustaceans. Once the adult salmon have re-entered freshwater, they do not feed. In the Great Lakes, Chinook Salmon were introduced to control the invasive alewife population


The Chinook Salmon is very important to commercial, recreational, and subsistence fishermen. It has always been central to the Native American lifestyle on the Pacific coast, and now much of the economy of the Pacific Northwest is based on it. Despite being relatively rare (compared to other Pacific Salmon species) it is the most commercially valuable. It is also now an important big game fish in the Great Lakes and is a big tourist draw in both the Pacific and Great Lakes regions.


Adult fish range in size from 33 to 36 inches (840 to 910 mm), but may be up to 58 inches (1.47 meters) in length; they average 10 to 50 pounds (4.54 to 22.7 kg), but may reach 130 pounds (59 kg).


Chinook Salmon are found natively in the Pacific from Monterey Bay, California to the Chukchi Sea, Alaska in North America and from the Anadyr River, Siberia to Hokkaido, Japan in Asia. It has also been introduced to many places around the world including the Great Lakes and New Zealand.


University of Michigan Museum of Zoology Animal Diversity Web

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