Ask your Naturalist: How are Alaska’s Salmon connected to the Forest?

Photo By Peter Barrett

During the small group experience on one of our whale watching tours, we get a lot of questions. In light of the delayed tourism season here in Juneau we’ve decided to bring the answers to you! We’ve reached out to our guide Keith Pahlke for our segment “Ask your Naturalist.” Keith is a retired Fisheries Biologies and Juneau local of over 35 years, so who better to ask about fish?! Check out his answer when we asked, “How are Alaska’s Salmon connected to the forest?”

“Salmon are an important species all over the Pacific, being that there are thousands and thousands of salmon in a healthy ecosystem. They’re born in fresh water and go out to the ocean as very small either fry or smolt, spend 1 – 5 years in the ocean depending on the species, gain a lot of weight anywhere from 2-3 pounds for pink salmon up to 50, even 100 for King Salmon. Then they come back going through a gauntlet of predators and fisheries, to the river they were born in.  Swimming upstream sometimes as far as 900 miles up the Yukon of the Columbia river. Moving all those nutrients from the ocean upstream.  Because if you think about it gravity and water are constantly moving nutrients downstream to the ocean, there’s not very many ways for things to get back upstream from the ocean and salmon are one of them. 

You get thousand and thousands of salmon going upstream, then they spawn, and they all die after they spawn.  And they either successfully spawn and die, or they’re killed by predators and hauled off in the woods, and their bodies are spread amongst the woods to provide nutrients for dozens of different animals as well as the forest itself.  So that’s why they’re important. And the amazing thing here that people talk about is hatcheries and fish farms can be pretty controversial. But Wild Fish, as long as we don’t screw up their habitat they come back for free every year and it’s just an amazing circle of life going on in the Pacific and the Atlantic.” 

If you’re looking for more ways to learn about Juneau and the incredible wildlife. Subscribe to our YouTube Channel, or follow the #AskyourNaturalist on Facebook or Instagram as we await for the day you’re able to share your questions with us face to face.

After growing up in Colorado, Keith made his way to Juneau to complete a Masters degree in fish biology and found his forever home in the beauty and magic that is Southeast Alaska. He has since retired and now spends his summers sharing stories and expertise as a Juneau local and retired fish biologies.
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