Save a Killer whale lately? Don’t answer that just yet, you may just change your answer after understanding the connectivity of watersheds to the ocean.
Spawning in the great watersheds that flow into the San Francisco Bay, Chinook salmon, also known as King salmon, make their way downstream, and plump up in the Bay, before venturing out into the expansive Pacific Ocean. Once there, they will travel hundreds of miles over several years in the deep sea as adults, sometimes swimming to Alaska and back again— to the stream in which they were born. Feeding on shellfish, aquatic insects, and plankton throughout their adult lives, Chinook salmon grow on average between two and three feet long, and can weigh 30 pounds!
For the better part of the last decade, returning Chinook salmon numbers in Bay Area watersheds were in a rapid decline, spurring several years where the fishing season for the species was closed. These low return rates are due to massive barriers we’ve created in our waterways, such as dams and flood control obstructions. Many of our creeks and streams, once abundant with Chinook, seldom see a single salmon swim upstream to spawn. However, in the last two years there has been a resurgence. Scientists and salmon hatchery workers believe that Mother Nature has mainly contributed to this recovery, but there are Bay Area creek restoration efforts that are also affecting the return of the Chinook salmon.
Marsh Creek, which runs from Mount Diablo into the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, has been subject of major restoration efforts over the last few years. In 2010, a fish ladder was built in hopes that the fish could climb around the flood control dam that had been preventing the salmon from continuing their journey upstream. By late 2012, Chinook salmon were hurdling their way up the ladder into the creek above the dam; a sight that had not been seen in 50 years!
Today, Chinook salmon are enjoying the efforts made by countless volunteers to clean up our watersheds around the Bay. However, salmon aren’t the only animals appreciating this hard work and dedication to our watersheds, Orcas (Killer whales) are too! Recent evidence is mounting that suggests Chinook salmon from Northern California are a substantial source of nutrition for Killer whales in the Puget Sound waters of Washington. So, if we appreciate and protect our local watersheds, we are not only making it more habitable for the Chinook salmon, we’re also helping Killer whale populations flourish! So I’ll ask again, have you saved any Killer whales lately? Would you like to? Come and join us for an event!