Field Guide - Chinook Salmon

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NOAA AK Fisheries Science Center
adult - female
Female Chinook salmon
adult - male
Spawning male Chinook salmon

Chinook Salmon

Oncorhynchus tshawytscha

Number of Confirmed Sightings: 0

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Salmoniformes
Family: Salmonidae
Genus: Oncorhynchus
Species: tshawytscha

Description: Chinook salmon (also known as king salmon) live in the seas along the majority of Alaska’s coast and spawn inland throughout freshwater rivers, streams, estuaries, and wetlands.

Population status: Stable and not considered threatened in Alaska, however, many fish are being caught as bycatch in the pollock fisheries. Some populations in the Pacific Northwest are endangered. The value of the Chinook salmon fishing industry in Alaska is very high, which contributes to the importance in conserving this natural resource.

General characteristics: Largest of the Pacific salmon, up to 60 inches and 129 pounds, blue-gray color on back with silver sides and white belly, small and irregular-shaped black spots on back, dorsal fin, and both lobes of the tail, and dark mouth with a black gum line on lower jaw.

Female defining traits: Mouth and nose points inward, face rounded, and coloring more dull than males

Male defining traits: Spawning male adults lose their silvery bright color and turn maroon to olive brown, and their lower jaw is hooked with enlarged teeth.

Juvenile defining traits: Smaller and stripes on back to blend into fresh water habitat.

Diet in the wild: Plankton, insects, amphipods, and other fish.

Reproductive cycle: Return to freshwater rivers or streams where they were born in July and August between ages 2–7 to spawn, and then die.

Predators in the wild: Adults are eaten by marine mammals in the ocean and by bears while in rivers spawning, and juveniles are eaten by other fish and birds.

Similar species: Coho, Chum, Pink, and Sockeye.