Spotlight: Identifiable Features of Spawning Salmon

3. Identifiable Features of Spawning Salmon

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How this Male Spawning Chinook Compares with Other Spawning Males

Explore these learning galleries and details below to learn to identify each of the five species of salmon in their spawning stage.

Chinook Gallery

  • The biggest of the five salmon.
  • Prominent spots on their back.
  • Backs turn dark greenish-brown.
  • Black gum line.
  • Spawn at 3 to 5 years old (like sockeye and chum).

Coho Gallery

  • Sometimes red across their body, including their head.
  • Almost-glowing blue backs.
  • Spots on the upper half of their tail.
  • White gum line.
  • Smaller than most Chinook, but can be a challenge to distinguish them from smaller Chinook.
  • Almost all coho return at 3 years old.

Sockeye Gallery

  • Body turns red and entire head turns green. (Unlike coho, whose head does not turn green.)
  • No spots on their back (like chum).
  • Very small teeth. (They are filter feeders, as are pink and chum.)
  • Their gills are more complicated and have more gill rakers than other salmon, enabling them to filter food.
  • Spawn at 3 to 5 years of age (like Chinook and chum).

Pink Gallery

  • Male pinks commonly become twice as tall as females, more than other male salmon. Also called “humpies.”
  • Noticeably smaller than other salmon (they return to spawn at just two years old).
  • They have significantly smaller scales than other salmon.
  • Teeth are very small. (They are filter feeders, like sockeye and chum, but also eat other prey.)
  • Spots on both lobes of tail.
  • Spawn in very shallow waters.
  • Spawn at 2 years.

Chum Gallery

  • Splotchy, multi-colored stripes on sides.
  • Almost as large as Chinook.
  • Males develop the biggest, gnarliest teeth of any spawning salmon (which is why they are called dogs).
  • No spots on their back or tail (like sockeye).
  • Spawn in shallow stream water. (Although pinks spawn in even shallower water.)
  • Have the narrowest caudal peduncle.
  • Spawn at 3 to 5 years old (like Chinook and sockeye).
  • They are filter feeders (like sockeye and pink).
  • Jacks are two years old.