Chinook salmon

The Chinook salmon is an important keystone species of the U.S. Pacific Northwest. It is a vital food source for a diversity of wildlife, including orca whales, bears, seals, and large birds of prey. Chinook salmon is also prized by people who harvest salmon both commercially and for sport. Chinook are the largest Pacific salmon species. On average, these fish are 3 feet long and approximately 30 pounds, but some individuals can grow to over 5 feet long and 110 pounds! Chinook salmon live about three to seven years. Juvenile salmon stay in freshwater habitat for the first year or so, before moving to the estuaries and then the open ocean. Estuaries provide a lot of food and nutrients to the developing salmon. The fish will spend approximately two to four years feeding in the ocean before returning to the spawning grounds to breed and die.

 

The Chinook Salmon is on the U.S. Endangered Species List. The Sacramento River winter-run population in California is classified as endangered wherever it is found. Other naturally spawned populations in California, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington are classified as threatened. Why the Chinook and other Pacific Northwest salmon have declined is no mystery. The causes are known as “the four H’s”: harvest, habitat, hatcheries, and hydroelectric power. Harvest refers to the overfishing of these species by commercial fishing interests. Habitat refers to the degradation of habitat, usually by pollutants or sediment in the water that make it uninhabitable by the salmon or their eggs. Captive-bred hatchery fish, released in the waterways used by native fish, compete and interbreed with the natives, weakening their stocks. Hydroelectric dams have had perhaps the largest impact, blocking migration routes and changing the quality, quantity, rate of flow, and temperature of the water in rivers, lakes, and tributary streams that once supported tens of millions of salmon. Protection of Chinook salmon is crucial to maintain healthy Pacific Northwest ecosystems and to provide a delicious food source for years to come.

Pacific harbor seals

Harbor seals are the most widely distributed pinniped. On the Oregon Coast, you will most likely encounter the Eastern Pacific harbor seal, a subspecies found between Alaska and Baja California, Mexico. These seals have spotted coats in a variety of shades from white or silver-gray to black or dark brown. They favor near-shore coastal waters and use rocks, reefs, beaches, and drifting glacial ice as haul out and pupping sites. Pacific harbor seals spend about half their time on land and half in the water. They can even sleep with their bodies nearly submerged in water, exposing only the tip of their nose to the air – a posture called “bottling.”

Despite being skilled swimmers, harbor seals face a number of threats in the ocean. There is currently no commercial hunting of harbor seals, but some native subsistence hunting of seals still occurs. Because they compete for many of the same species of fish, harbor seals are sometimes killed by commercial fishermen. Seals can also become entangled and drown in fishing nets and gear. In addition, the species is preyed upon by killer whales, sharks and Steller’s sea lions. El Niño events can decrease the animal’s food availability, which includes a variety of fish, shellfish, and crustaceans.  

Huckleberries

The evergreen huckleberry is a one of many evergreen shrubs native to Pacific coastal forests. First noted by Captain Lewis at Oregon’s Fort Clatsop in 1806, this shrub, which can grow to 12 feet or more in the shade, likes acidic soil and can tolerate salt spray and strong winds.

In the spring, the branches are covered with clusters of small, pinkish-white bell-shaped flowers which yield tiny blue-black fruit in late summer. These flowers attract bees, birds, and butterflies and the berries are eaten by songbirds, mammals, and humans. Like its most well-known relative, the common blueberry, huckleberries contain high concentrations of antioxidants and were favored by native populations. Today, they are frequently used to make pies, jams and jellies, and syrups.