Alaska's Unsung Heroes
By Krista Koehn, Expedition Guide
When we say Alaskan wildlife, what comes to mind? Do you automatically think of bears? Or eagles? Or maybe whales? Charismatic megafauna capture our attention and our imagination, but another, smaller critter is the state’s true unsung hero. It feeds the forests and runs through the veins of the state. And all Alaskans agree, no other animals’ arrival is anticipated as much as that of the Pacific Salmon.
All five species of Pacific Salmon are anadromous, meaning they spend part of their lifecycles in freshwater. After preparing for saltwater survival, they migrate to the ocean to spend anywhere from one to seven years maturing in our nutrient-rich oceans. Eventually, using an incredible combination of magnetism and olfactory imprinting, they navigate their way to their natal streams (often after traveling thousands of miles) to spawn and, soon thereafter, die in nearly the exact same place they were born.
Millions are caught annually to satiate a growing appetite for the lean and delicious meal, making salmon fishing one of Alaska’s most important industries. Others make it past the nets to feed the bears and the eagles on their way upriver, and others still, after producing the next generation of Alaska’s life-blood, die on the banks returning invaluable nutrients to the trees lining the river.
So, let’s hear it for the salmon, whose cultural, economic, and ecological significance is immeasurable to the people and the animals of the state. Let’s hear it for Alaska’s true unsung heroes.