Species Finder Species Posted Mar 14, 2000 Chinook Salmon Appearance Chinook salmon are blue-green on the back and top of the head with silvery sides and white bellies. They have black spots on the upper half of the body and both lobes of its tail have gray/black gum coloration. In freshwater, when they are about to spawn, Chinook change to olive brown, red, or purplish; this change in color is particularly evident in males. Maximum Size As long as 58 inches (147 cm) and up to 129 pounds (58.6 kg) in weight but typical length and weight are about 36 inches (91 cm) and 30 pounds (13.6 kg), respectively. Growth Rate Variable. Geographic Range In U.S. waters, from the Bering Strait area off Alaska south to Southern California. Historically, they ranged as far south as the Ventura River, California. They are also found along the coast of Siberia and south to Hokkaido Island, Japan. Habitat Freshwater streams, estuaries, and associated wetlands provide vital nursery grounds for Chinook salmon. Chinook migrate from freshwater habitats to the ocean to further rear and mature. Life Span 3 to 7 years. Food Young Chinook salmon feed on terrestrial and aquatic insects, amphipods, and other crustaceans. Older Chinook primarily feed on other fish. Reaches Reproductive Maturity At an age of 2 to 7 years. Reproduction Chinook salmon are anadromous – they live in the ocean but return to fresh water to spawn. They spawn once and then die. Chinook dig out gravel nests (called redds) on stream bottoms where they lay their eggs. After the eggs incubate, they hatch into yolk sac larvae, which remain in the gravel until the sac is absorbed. Smolt eventually migrate downstream, sometimes stopping in lakes or estuaries before entering the ocean. Adults spend 1 to 5 years in the ocean before returning to the streams where they were born to spawn. Several stocks return to fresh water during a given season (a seasonal run). Spawning Chinooks generally spawn in summer or early fall but sometimes as early as May or as late as January. The spawning grounds range from just above tidewater to over 2,000 miles from the ocean. Migrations Salmon are born in freshwater; young salmon (smolts) swim and drift through streams and rivers to reach the estuary or ocean. Juveniles migrate up- and downstream within streams and estuaries in response to changes in water condition. Salmon from the Pacific Northwest often migrate far north in the ocean to waters adjacent to Canada and Alaska to feed and grow. Adult salmon leave the ocean, enter fresh water, and migrate upstream to spawn, usually in the stream of their birth. Predators Fish, such as whiting and mackerel, and birds eat juvenile Chinook salmon. Marine mammals, such as orcas and sea lions, and salmon sharks eat adults. Salmon are also primary prey for southern resident killer whales, an endangered species. Information courtesy of NOAA. King Salmon The Alaskan state fish, chinook salmon, also known as King salmon because of its immense size and delicious flavor, is the largest known species in the salmon family. It is quite an attractive fish, with purple or blue green on the top of it's head and back. The tail features black spots as does the upper half of its body. The ventral surfaces are white, the sides are silver and often times, the mouth of the King salmon is a dark purple. The adult chinook salmon can range in weight anywhere from 10 to 50 pounds The largest commercially caught record for chinook salmon is an amazing 126 pounds - a feat that would be the dream of just about any angler on the planet. King Salmon can be found in a range spanning from the Chukchi Sea, to the north part of the Bering Strait in Alaska, and also in the San Francisco Bay - all places where King salmon fishing is a big event for those who love this species. They are also found in Asia, amongst the islands of Japan, and around certain islands in Russia on the eastern coastal region. They spend on average 3 or 4 years in the ocean before returning to their home rivers where they will spawn. Many Native American tribes prize the chinook salmon both culturally and spiritually, and often have a celebration in the springtime, called the First Salmon Ceremonies, of which the main guest of honor is the first spring caught chinook salmon. These tribes generally do not do saltwater salmon fishing, instead they work the rivers for their catch. Not only are the king salmon celebrated in these communities, the harvest of these salmon is quite valuable and very important to the economy.