Goldstream Nature House manager Tracey Bleackley loves to watch the salmon as they return to Goldstream River to spawn

Goldstream River: Salmon take the long road home

Goldstream River is one of the last on the Vancouver Island coast to have its salmon run on now

A call comes over all salmon. An instinctual trigger they cannot ignore, leading them back to the place of their birth and, soon, of their death.

“They’ve been spending their life out in the ocean for three to four years, sometimes five, growing to be big adult salmon, defeating all the odds against them,” naturalist and manager of the Goldstream Nature House Tracey Bleackley explains. “Once that trigger has gone off they stop eating and they’re just swimming. They’re just heading here.”

Goldstream River is one of the last on the Vancouver Island coast to have its salmon run, primarily because of its southern location. For tourists and residents alike, however, it’s one of the most accessible and well known spots to see this circle of nature in action, drawing thousands of people to its banks.

After the journey south, achieved through scent, sight and a natural ability to find magnetic north, the salmon begin to make their way up the river when the temperature drops, the rain increases and leafs start dropping from the trees, releasing tannins into the water, the scent from which is another sign for the salmon to start swimming.

The females begin to swim against the current of the river as they search for the exact spot they were born. They can get within a metre of their own birthplace, using scent to pinpoint the location.

They being to dig holes to lay eggs in as the males begin to fight one another for fertilization rights.

“There are probably one female for every four male,” Bleackley said. “So there’s a lot of fighting.”

Fertilization happens at night. The female sinks into her nest, about one foot deep now, and leaves her eggs, at which point the dominant male has 15 seconds to fertilize them before the eggs are ruined.

It’s this entire spectacle which causes the parking lot of Goldstream Park to spill over to the sides of the Trans-Canada Highway every autumn.

While Bleackley loves that so many people come to the park to see the salmon, she also feels protective of her finned friends and does her best to make sure people know not to interfere.

Bleackley said she gets emotionally involved in the salmons’ plight every year.

“It’s the ups and downs. You love to have the salmon here but it also brings in a lot of people, so it means being a voice for the salmon too,” Bleackley said. “Not only are we educating people about the conservation and how amazing this natural phenomenon is right outside our back door, we’re also educating them about the proper etiquette on the river.”

Once the eggs are hatched the salmon’s purpose in life has come to an end and, with it, their life. Both the male and female fish, having laid and fertilized all the eggs they can, die.

“That part of the story is a little sad when people first learn about it,” Bleackley said. “But it’s pretty crucial as well.”

It’s far from the end, though. What park staff refer to as “the clean up crew” begins its work. Multiple species of birds and mammals, including hundred of eagles and some bears and wolves, make their way to the river to feast on the dead fish.

The rotting carcasses, sometimes dragged miles inland, also go on to fertilize the surrounding forest. Nutrients from the open ocean can be found in Goldstream Park trees from this process.

“Everything that exists around a salmon run is because of salmon,” Bleackley said. “Everything in the park is connected to salmon.”

Long after the scavengers have left, as the sun moves closer to our part of the world and the waters of Goldstream River begin to warm up in the early days of spring, the labours of the prior fall begin to pay off. The eggs begin to hatch, first into alevin, and then into fry, thousands of them, wiggling their way out of the gravel to begin their trip to the open ocean, ready to face a dangerous life in the hopes of starting the entire process over again.

Out of every 4,000 salmon eggs hatched, about the maximum a single female salmon can lay, four will make it back to the river to procreate.

Etiquette

The salmon are not used to the confined space of the river, having come from the open ocean, and are startled easily. Even a leaf falling off a tree can scare a salmon the point where it has a heart attack and dies.

Visitors are asked not to wear bright colours, to leave umbrellas at home, to not throw anything into or across the river and to keep dogs well away.

Visiting

 

The best time to see the spawning is mid to late october, when the salmon begin their journey up the river. The exact timeframe depends on the weather. After the run, when all the mature salmon have died, is also an interesting, if not fragrant, time to visit.

 

Just Posted

SD61 to install new water fountains over lead concerns

They’re installing 350 new water fountains in local schools due to concerns over elevated levels of lead in the water system

West Shore firefighters band together to support men’s health

More than $8,200 raised for Movember campaign

Holiday gift wrapping tips and tricks

Streamline your process to avoid the hassle

Omnibus zoning bylaw sent for revisions to prevent blanket upzoning in downtown Victoria

More than 10 downtown properties identified by Downtown Residents Association

UPDATE: Four vehicle crash on Sooke Road snarls traffic in Colwood

Sooke Road reopens to traffic in both direction

VIDEO: That’s a wrap: Be a Santa to a Senior packages ready to go out

Program hands out more than 600 gifts to Greater Victoria seniors

Owl found dead after eating rat poison leaves B.C. woman concerned

After finding the owl on her Surrey property, Christine Trozzo says the poison is a concern for kids

Change to CPP death benefit panned as insufficient to cover funeral costs

Funeral Services Association of Canada lobbied governments to raise the value to $3,580

Shelbourne Community Kitchen vies for $20,000 prize

Epicure Foundation, based in North Saanich, will give five groups $20,000 each

Woman in Nanaimo accidentally hands over diamond ring with spare change

Incident happened Wednesday at about 7 p.m. at parking lot near Nanaimo’s boardwalk

B.C. woman brain injured in crash as a baby gets $1.1 million in damages

Trial heard the woman was 16 months old, being carried by her mother when they were both hit

Optimistic Victoria whale watching company invests in new vessel

Banner 2017 tourist season helps Prince of Whales decide to boost service

Victoria cycling advocate makes pitch lor lower speeds on local roads

Group points to evidence suggesting 30 km/h speed limit would save money, lives

Most Read