I’ve decided that it sucks being an Alaskan salmon. It’s all because they taste too darn good!
(Seriously, I don’t know why people bother with their farmed counterpart, with meat so pale dye needs to be added to it.)
Being tasty is good, but then everyone wants to eat you. Everyone.
Being an Alaskan salmon means fending off the bears – both black bears and grizzlies. During an Alaskan salmon run, bears can be so spoiled for choice they’d only eat the best part of a salmon: the skin and the eggs, leaving the rest for other animals to feast on.
Then there’s the Alaskan people itself. What Alaskans like more than eating salmon (have you ever heard of salmon bakes?) is fishing for them. Even late in the season we saw people fishing for salmon in rivers.
But the main reason I thought that salmon lead a tough life is that they literally have to suffer and die to breed.
Salmon (like many other animals) return to where they were born to breed.
When they reach breeding age, a salmon would ‘smell’ its way back up its natal body of water. Some species can travel up to 900 miles, drawn by an inexplicable pull to return to where its life started however many years ago.
They swim upstream regardless of obstacles on the way: jumping over waterfalls and dams. They stop eating. Their bodies quickly deteriorate, losing their silver lustre.
When (if, assuming they survive the bears and the eager fishermen) they finally reach their destination, they would spawn and die, their bodies completely depleted of energy. Their decomposing bodies sink to the bottom and become nutrients to feed their hatchlings.
I was fortunate to see a small group of Alaskan salmons making this very death pilgrimage during my last visit to Alaska.
We stopped at a small parking lot with a view of a glacier. There was a platform over a nearby river when one can watch these fish during salmon run season.
In late August, only the Sockeye salmon remains. Some of them have adopted a bright, red color. It makes them easy to spot in the shallow stream.
A little further upstream there was a small rise in the river bed that the fish would have to jump over. A small group of people had gathered watching one fish after another makes a go for it, only to be swept away by the current.
Then another fish decides to try his luck. With a couple of strokes of his tail, he flopped and climbed its way up!
We all cheered when the fish made it through. Phew! I didn’t even realise I was holding my breath. It felt like watching the Olympics all over again.
I wish these salmon luck. I wish they’d spawn many, many more delicious salmon. There’s something poetic about this life cycle. I’m both fascinated and horrified.
And just a little awed.
In Alaska, it is easy to feel that you’re a part of nature.
*Thanks to Hilton Garden Inn in Anchorage for having us over as guests