PUGET SOUND SALMON: Counting and teaching

Tonight, salmon are in the spotlight at The Whale Trail‘s Orca Talk. Right now, we have two updates involving local salmon and the people who track them:

Spring is when coho smolts leave Fauntleroy Creek for their two years in saltwater and creek volunteers have documented the first to head for Puget Sound.

Soft trapping of smolts at upper- and lower-creek locations began in mid March and Dennis Hinton found a healthy 4-5 incher on March 20. He and Pete Draughon check both traps daily to count the fish before sending them on their way.

“The number of smolts to survive their year in Fauntleroy Creek tells us a lot about habitat conditions here – the health of the creek,” Dennis said. “Like the number of spawners in the fall, smolt numbers have varied widely over the 14 years we’ve been monitoring, from a high of 157 in 2012 to 19 last year.”

Most of the smolts are likely coho released as fry by students in the Salmon in the Schools program. Creek volunteers will be supporting 19 releases involving about 750 students starting in late April.

–Judy Pickens

Among the schools in that program is West Seattle Elementary, which got a visit earlier this month from biologist Steev Ward – who gave students a close-up look at what’s inside a fish:

Ward’s presentation took about an hour, explaining the fish’s internal systems, how they worked, what’s different from ours. The students asked about topics including the salmon’s digestive and nervous systems, and they learned that a salmon has a small bone in its head that helps it hear.

They asked Ward how many fish he had dissected; he said he’d lost count, maybe in the thousands. What would happen to what’s left of this one, they also asked. It was to be buried at his house, since the possibility of contamination meant the carcass couldn’t just be placed back in a stream.

4 Replies to "PUGET SOUND SALMON: Counting and teaching"

  • Matt B March 30, 2017 (11:52 pm)

    4-5 incher? More likely a cutthroat.

  • Dennis Hinton March 31, 2017 (10:45 pm)

    The fish from this top view, with the black spots,

    does indeed look like it could be a cutthroat. But if

    you saw this fish from a side view you would agree

    it has the markings of a coho smolt. The coho smolt

    heading for the salt from Fauntleroy Creek have 

    commonly been in the three to five inch range.

    • Matt B April 3, 2017 (9:58 am)

      Well, I’m surprised since I live near the creek and know that it doesn’t
      seem to have much in the way of rearing habitat, but if the guys
      running the traps say so, I have to believe them. It’s surprising
      because a 5-inch coho smolt likely spent 2 years in the stream before
      outmigrating, and culverts keep fish from moving upstream to all but a
      few hundred yards of stream down by the ferry terminal, so fish that
      would rear up above there for a year or two would almost have to be from
      the Salmon in the Classroom program.

      Pretty cool if juvenile salmon can rear in that creek for 2 years. I’ve
      been wrong before and I’ll be wrong again. How cool would it be to
      restore upstream fish passage on the creek, since it apparently still
      has some decent rearing capacity?

  • Marty April 1, 2017 (5:55 pm)

    Lots of spots for a coho!

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