Pink Salmon

Common Name: Pink salmon, humpy salmon.

Scientific Name: Oncorhynchus gorbuscha (Walbaum 1792)

How to Identify a Pink Salmon:

    • Pink Salmon have large black spots on the back and tail.
    • Pink Salmon males in spawning condition have a large hump.
    • Pink Salmon are the smallest of all the Pacific Salmon species.

What do they look like?

In the ocean, the body of a Pink Salmon is streamlined and silvery in colour with large black spots on the back and tail. When Pink Salmon return to the freshwater to spawn, they become darker in colour and the males develop a large hump on their back. Spawning Pink Salmon also have extended, hooked snouts and barred teeth. The appearance of males changes more than that of the females while in freshwater.

Pink salmon in silver bright "ocean phase" Pink salmon male in spawning condition with hump

Note the large spots on the tail.

How do they live (what is their life-cycle)?

While Pink Salmon adults often return to the freshwater river where they were "born" to spawn, Pink Salmon adults also commonly get "lost". These "lost" salmon are called vagrants. Pink Salmon migrate upstream a short distance and seek spawning locations in gravel river beds where the water flowing through the gravel never freezes, even in winter. The eggs and milt (sperm) are deposited in a depression dug in the gravel. After spawning, the adults die. The eggs develop over the winter and the fry emerge from the gravel in the spring, usually at the same time as the ice leaves the river. Pink Salmon juveniles are thought to head directly out to the ocean after they leave the spawning nest in the gravel. They spend some time in the estuary eating and getting used to the salt water of the ocean before heading out to the ocean to eat and grow. Pink Salmon juveniles are thought to stay close to shore in the ocean for several months. Pink Salmon almost always spend 1 year in the ocean before returning to spawn as adults. It is unclear where the Pink Salmon spend their winter at sea.

What do they do?

Much of the biology of salmon in the Arctic is not yet known, and is being discovered with this research. In the Canadian Arctic, Pink Salmon are caught along the coast and in the Mackenzie River Delta from August - November. Adult salmon do not eat while swimming upstream to spawn. It is not known if juvenile Pink Salmon eat while moving downstream from the spawning locations to the ocean. Spawning locations are not known in the Canadian Arctic.

Where are they found?

Pink Salmon range from the Lena River, central Siberia to the Mackenzie River, Canada in the Arctic Ocean and from Russia to California in the Pacific Ocean. In the Canadian Arctic, Pink Salmon are the second most common species of salmon caught. They are almost always found only along the coast, and in the Mackenzie River Delta. One pink salmon has also been captured at Ft. Smith on the Slave River.

Map showing distribution of pink salmon (pink dots on map) captured and turned into Fisheries and Oceans Canada to 2013. Map produced by the GIS Department, Aurora Research Institute.