Quick Hit: Carkeek Salmon Run

It was a perfect late fall day in Seattle: the air was cold, but clear, and the sun was shining brightly, taking a bit of the edge off the chill. I had a lazy morning, talking with my parents a bit, and reading some, before setting out to Carkeek Park in North Seattle.

I had been thinking about going to Carkeek for the last two weekends. Then, on Friday, I saw a post on Workplace that one of the salmon runs was nearly at its peak, and it was worth checking out. It turns out that it takes about an hour to get there on bus; I have a feeling I’m going to become a transit advocate in Seattle 1.

I got there about 15:00, which gave me only about ninety minutes before the sun set. (It’s one of my favorite complications on the Apple Watch: sunrise / sunset details.) As I walked down into the gorge, in the heavily shaded areas, there was still frost on the ground.

Frost on fallen leaves
How can there be global warming if it’s cold here?

In the past, when I had seen the runs, you had to look carefully for a one of the salmon. But it was obvious here. They all looked like fat, well-fed fish, probably four to six pounds each.

I think this was their spawning ground; there wasn’t a long swim up multiple sets of rapids. Some of the behaviors I saw made more sense if it was preparing an egg bed or fertilization. There were also a lot of dead fish around, and it was this sight that prompted my wondering if the creek bed was the actual breeding ground. It seemed like a not-great adaptation if the fish were all dying before they had a chance to reproduce.

Salmon swimming in shallow creek
The salmon seems altogether too big for the creek.

There were a lot of salmon in the water. It was a lot more than I was expecting to see, and now I want to go see one of the great salmon migrations in Alaska (and, yes, also the bears). I was also surprised that there wasn’t a lot of co-operative behavior between the fish; that at times, it seemed like the fish were blocking each other moving upstream. Even here, I wondered if it was males blocking other males, and there was an advantage to the behavior.

Group of salmon fighting in creek
Hell is local maxima.

Even the short stretch of Carkeek Creek was still an inspiring journey; the fish coming back to their native spawning grounds. But, there is only one way the journey ends; with the fish dying after spawning. I hadn’t expected Carkeek to be where they were spawning, but realize that of course this is, and so, it’s where they are going to die. Now, I’m going to fall in a wiki hole about the impact of salmon carcasses on the ecosystem. I’m going to guess that it’s broadly positive, but there may be some very niche animals that take advantage of it.

Dead salmon lying in shallow creek
Animals had already started picking over the bodies
  1. I’d like my legacy to be that I started serious discussion about the role of autonomous transit in the city.