FOLLOWUP: Near-record coho count as Fauntleroy Creek salmon-watching season wraps

(Spawning pair, photographed by Tom Trulin)

By Judy Pickens
Special to West Seattle Blog

The longest salmon watch since counting of coho spawners in Fauntleroy Creek started in 1999 ended Sunday with a near-record 244 fish.

(Photo by Judy Pickens)

The seven-week watch began in mid October, and a month later watchers were about to call it a day when the count stood at 10 – a typical number for this small creek. Then high tides, an “atmospheric river” weather system, and perhaps barometric pressure brought in the most spawners since 2012, when the tally was 274.

In advance of spawning season, the Fauntleroy Watershed Council secured a state permit to break up a log jam on the beach that likely would impede spawners from reaching the mouth of the creek near the Fauntleroy Ferry Terminal. Mark Sears led other volunteers in clearing the channel, then made adjustments throughout the watch to be sure it stayed clear.

The council’s annual drumming on October 10 drew about 30 people to call in spawners and initiate the watch. Seventeen volunteers, led by veteran watchers Dennis Hinton and Pete Draughon, counted spawners coming through the fish ladder into the spawning reach between 45th Ave. SW and Fauntleroy Way SW.

Volunteers Dennis Hinton, Mark Sears, and Pete Draughon

“Just getting 10 fish was worth celebrating, given that we had had only two last year,” Dennis said. “Then with an 11.5-foot tide on Nov. 15, the fish began pouring in.”

The council had hosted an open creek on October 30 on the assumption that the season was about to end. When the surge started, watchers began inviting visitors down to the spawning reach. A record 400+ people of all ages came, many multiple times, to see fish and learn about salmon behavior and habitat.

“It was an amazing watch by all counts,” Dennis said. “The spawners easily climbed the fish ladder and went on up to spawn, watchers faithfully showed up to count them, and visitors got to witness it all right in their neighborhood.”

Most hatcheries remove the adipose fin to distinguish the fish they rear from fish originating in the wild. Dennis estimated that at least a third of Fauntleroy Creek’s spawners this year were wild, and some of those could have been released here through the Salmon in the Schools program.

Information about volunteering and about donating toward stewardship projects on the creek and in Fauntleroy Park is on the council’s website. Please be patient as an update is nearing completion.

16 Replies to "FOLLOWUP: Near-record coho count as Fauntleroy Creek salmon-watching season wraps"

  • tom November 29, 2021 (3:31 pm)

    thank you to Dennis, Pete, and all the counters…go nature!

  • Also John November 29, 2021 (4:29 pm)

    Wonderful news!  Thanks to all the volunteer counters.

  • Steve November 29, 2021 (4:51 pm)

    Thank you for your service. How wonderful to read this!

  • Mj November 29, 2021 (5:28 pm)

    So 244 counted, likely more (unless counters were present 24 7) this is good news!

  • Mike Lindblom November 29, 2021 (5:52 pm)

    Great news, thank you volunteers and to WS Blog for publishing the lowdown on the coho.

  • Buttercup November 29, 2021 (7:02 pm)

    This is the spirit of West Seattle that I fell in love with when I moved here. Thanks everyone including all the kids who helped nurture the fish

  • mok4315 November 29, 2021 (11:01 pm)

    Ok guys, stupid question that I swear I’ve tried googling. What happens if the high tides and atmospheric river aren’t present when the hatched salmon come back to spawn? I’ve been probably unnecessary obsessing over this the past few weeks but I NEED to know they’ll be ok and not just circling West Seattle until they run out of energy and die.

  • Judy November 30, 2021 (9:06 am)

    = Regarding our counting:  Formal salmon watching on Fauntleroy Creek dates from 1999, so we’ve had plenty of opportunity to try different approaches.  What we settled on gives us high confidence in our count.  We watch during the 5 hours after daytime high tide (when spawners are most likely to come in), note where the fish are in the spawning reach and their activity level, and come to a number at the end of each day that reflects only new fish, not holdovers from the prior day.

    = Regarding spawners not able to get in: Coho are good jumpers and thus can get into the creek with a 10-foot tide and perhaps even lower, so fall tides give them many opportunities.  Coho are also opportunistic; if they can’t get to their home creek (or, in the case of hatchery-released fish, don’t have one), they will come into freshwater anywhere they sense spawning habitat.  They sniff for water that’s been refreshed by heavy rain and water that carries the scent of dead or dying spawners.  The percentage of hatchery fish that come in here varies widely and often is much higher than this year; they simply like what they find and choose this creek for their offspring.  Some likely do circle West Seattle until they expire.  Perhaps they came back to Puget Sound too late and used all their energy in transit.  Perhaps predators forced them into unfamiliar territory.  Whatever the reason, the nutrients they bring still contribute to the food chain.

    • ShermanO November 30, 2021 (10:37 am)

      Really interesting, and things I’ve wondered about. Thanks, Judy!

    • JayDee November 30, 2021 (12:09 pm)

      Can the public access the bridge across the creek if we wanted to try and see if any come up this afternoon (11/30) at 1:06 PM?

    • mok4315 November 30, 2021 (11:59 pm)

      Thanks for your detailed answer Judy! That makes me feel loads better :) 

    • Peter Draughon December 1, 2021 (7:51 pm)

      Another thought for returning salmon is most of their efforts & energy are when they’re in freshwater.  Their body chemistry has to adjust in order to go from salt to freshwater.  The salmon can’t go directly upstream.  They have to acclimate.

  • Joe November 30, 2021 (11:41 am)

    How many redds? 

  • Judy November 30, 2021 (12:54 pm)

    If you’ve been to the spawning reach before, you’re welcome to come have a look this afternoon.  If you haven’t, you’re still welcome but please come to the front door to let us know you are here.

    Regarding redds, we don’t have a good count as most are upstream where access by people is not easy.  And with so many fish, the later ones likely dug up the redds of earlier ones.

  • Lori Hinton November 30, 2021 (1:14 pm)

    Way to go Coho! And great job volunteers. This gives us all so much HOPE!

  • Susan Skaret December 1, 2021 (4:48 am)

    This is amazing news!  Having grown up next to this creek, I applaud the volunteers time and tenacity in preserving and protecting our earth’s, natural resources and precious creatures. I know my dad, Morey, is smiling at his neighborhoods continued work  and applauding the salmons robust return. Together, we go further together! Thank you!

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