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The long journey of Chinook salmons

Taga Shaw, or Great River, as it is called by the Southern Tutchone, one of the native peoples that of the Yukon, Canada.

Every year, salmon swim thousands of kilometers upstream to reach the place where they were born and spawn. The largest and first to arrive is 𝗦𝗮𝗹𝗺𝗼𝗻𝗲 𝗿𝗲𝗮𝗹𝗲

(𝘖𝘯𝘤𝘰𝘳𝘩𝘺𝘯𝘤𝘩𝘶𝘴 𝘵𝘴𝘩𝘢𝘸𝘺𝘵𝘴𝘤𝘩), also known as King, Spring or Chinook salmon.


It is one of 6 species of salmon found in North America. Its life is fraught with peril, culminating in a 3,000-kilometer migration from the Bearing Sea to the Whitehorse Channel, where the female, before dying, will spawn in the tributaries of the Yukon at the exact place where she was born. In recent years, the number of individuals that make it there has drastically declined due to climate change, which has altered the water cycle, pollution, overfishing, and competition with other (smaller but more abundant, such as pink salmon) species.


Added to this already complex list is infrastructure. What is useful for us humans, in fact, is often a problem for wildlife. Such is the case with Whitehorse Dam, built in 1958 and currently producing enough energy to power 1 million 40-watt light bulbs. Fortunately, the following year Yukon Energy built a facility that, at 366 meters, is to date the world's largest lift. Here, streams of water push fish toward a channel where they pass through several pools in which circular motions rest them before propelling them over a drop of as much as 20 meters.

The lift is an example of mitigation of human impact on ecosystems and wildlife to which a nursery was added in 1984. To help the population stay healthy, each year a portion of the eggs carried by the females are taken by the operators and the fry are reared in captivity for 1 year before being released.


Unfortunately, as the volunteer we interviewed explains, despite their efforts, there are so many obstacles for these animals to overcome that as of August 21, only 95 out of 7000 leaving the Arctic make it back. In 2022, given the drastic decline in salmon returning to the system, the Yukon government, with First Nations support and endorsement, has imposed a fishing closure that includes subsistence activities.


Why is it critical to protect it? Because it is part of an intricate system of relationships and is the food source for many organisms:

- it is the main prey of killer whales

- it accounts for up to 30 percent of the diet of wolves

- bears can eat up to 30 a day

- eagles and other birds

- in some regions, Chinook salmon forms the basis of the diet of many First Nations communities that fish for it back to when, 10,000 years ago, glaciers melted and the Yukon joined the Pacific across the Bearing Strait, enabling the very migration of salmon.


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