Mortality and the Cycle of Life

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In its lifetime, a king salmon confronts so many obstacles to life that you might wonder how its species has ever survived. The female will lay 5000 to 7000 eggs in her redd, or nest, in the fall. Quite the brood. But even in the best of times, less than a half dozen will ever reach adulthood and return upriver to their spawning grounds. In 2013, less than one king from every redd made it home.

The young will be hunted by the pike and the eagle during their formative year in the Yukon. Once they reach the ocean, they must undergo a miraculous but difficult change from freshwater to saltwater fish. And the sea holds new and larger predators with a taste for salmon.

When mature, they must re-adapt to freshwater life before journeying back upriver. Some will swim nearly 2,000 miles upstream without sustenance (they do not eat on the return trip). The one or two who do avoid the bear and the fisherman and find the strength to complete the arduous final swim will be fortunate indeed.

Of course, all of this has been weighed and measured in nature’s balance and the salmon has gone on. Nature’s perils do not explain why the king’s numbers are declining. So the question remains, “Where has he gone?”

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