The epic migrations of salmon have made them famous as one of the most spectacular shows of nature, with great effort they go up mighty rivers with jumps that would envy the most versatile athletes, they go through the water currents saving great obstacles, They go through the water currents overcoming great obstacles, the jaws of powerful and hungry predators among which stand out the black and brown bears and of course the wolves, they undergo all kinds of adventures with the sole purpose of reaching the place where, years ago they were born and spawn to give life to new generations and then die, what we do not know is that the salmon sow forests from the sea.
Salmon are much more than sushi and fulfill essential functions in nature that guarantee the life of hundreds of other species. It seems unbelievable, but one of the most important functions of this species in nature is to fertilize the soil, giving rise to an intricate network of biological interconnection in the largest temperate rainforest on the planet, the Canadian forests.
Black and brown bears, wolves, foxes, bald eagles, mouflons, moose, deer, wolverines, ravens and a countless number of other species can subsist thanks to the work of salmon in these lands. Without their presence, life would be transformed to such an extent that hundreds of species would disappear, rivers would surely change their course and ecosystems would cease to be functional, but how do salmon sow forests from the sea?
These fish, which have been flocking to the coasts of the Canadian Pacific for more than six million years, are the protagonists of one of the most numerous migrations in the animal world each year, with hundreds of millions of individuals moving through a tangle of difficulties.
Hungry wolves prowl the estuaries that are the perfect place where salmon patiently wait for the right moment to start their migration upstream, this is one of the first obstacles they must overcome. But in the sea, the orcas also stalk them vigilantly until the right moment arrives and after the first of them to venture upstream, hundreds of thousands of specimens follow, yearning to leave a legacy by procreating and this begins to leave the first traces to know that the salmon sow forests from the sea.
When the tide goes out, the wolves’ job is made easier and they seem to catch more fish than they can eat, and so begins the magic of the life-seeding salmon in the great temperate rainforests of North America.
You may be interested in: They discovered that wolves know how to fish
Many salmon are hosts to a parasite known as Anisakis, whose life cycle occurs exclusively in the sea, the eggs of this parasite are ingested by small crustaceans which in turn are ingested by larger fish, such as salmon, in which the parasite develops in the viscera, mainly in the liver but sometimes extending to the muscles.
This cycle is completed when a marine mammal hunts the fish that is hosting the parasite. When the dolphin, whale, sea lion, etc., ingests the parasite, it activates its maturation process and lays eggs that are excreted into the sea and the cycle begins again.
However, when a terrestrial mammal ingests the host salmon, the parasite generates an infection known as ‘anisakiasis’, which manifests itself through nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain and when the parasite lodges in the intestine, surgery is sometimes required in order to remove it.
Wolves know this and therefore only eat the head of the salmon which is very nutritious and free of Anisakis. But it is the skin of the salmon that is the most nutritious part thanks to its high fat content, for wolves it is impossible to separate the skin from the meat and that is why they require the help of other animals to achieve it, that is why they abandon their prey on the river bank waiting for the scavengers to take care of that task. Salmon sow forests from the sea
Shortly after the prey is abandoned, crows and eagles arrive and despise the animal’s skin and only consume the meat. The job is done and the wolves return to take over, leaving almost nothing behind. As well as wolves, crows and eagles, there are more than 200 species of animals in the forest that feed on the salmon.
Each step of the way poses new threats to their survival, but they ensure the survival of many other species with their sacrifice. The river rapids must be negotiated with titanic leaps that they can achieve thanks to their powerful muscles, and when they reach that point they encounter hundreds of hungry, fish-loving black and brown bears. They require fat and protein to survive the winter.
There are so many bears eager to increase their weight by varying their diet that the competition is merciless, not even the largest and most powerful grizzlies are respected, so most of them must hunt the salmon and retreat to the depths of the forest to devour it in peace. There, the magic of the life-giving begins again and the salmon sow forests from the sea.
Between bears and scavengers, thousands of tons of salmon are left in the forest each year to decompose on the forest floor. The bears only eat about a quarter of their prey, abandoning more than half and only taking advantage of the parts with the highest fat content.
The rotting remains of millions of salmon abandoned in the forests provide more than 80% of the nitrogen fertilizer in the soils of these forests, making a clear difference with others where their rivers lack these fish. The conifers in these forests have been found to be up to three times larger.
Salmon have a supremely acute sense of smell, they can detect the exact location of their birthplace and it is there and only there that they will fertilize the eggs laid by their mate to give life to a new life cycle of the great.
The Native Americans, especially the Haida, who call themselves ‘The Salmon People’, through their delicate observation of nature and their millenary communion with mother earth, perceived the immense benefit that salmon bring to the different locations where they are found, but they wondered why the salmon did not go up other rivers?
Faced with frustration and lack of answers, they decided, hundreds of years ago, to undertake a slow but multi-beneficial enterprise to solve the lack of these fish in some watercourses.
As soon as the eggs had been fertilized in the upper parts of a certain river, the natives collected them delicately, depositing them in cedar wood boxes lined with damp moss to prevent the sun and wind from drying them out. They would take them to other rivers and thus ‘seed’ salmon that would benefit other micro watersheds.
For centuries, the temperate rainforest provided medicine, clothing, food and building materials to the first nations of North America, and today it continues to do so, all thanks to the persistent fish with delicious pink flesh that we eat in abundance, the salmon that seeds forests from the sea.
The salmon satisfied all the needs of the first inhabitants of these lands and not only seas and rivers were their home, but also the forests of cedar, oak, red maple, yellow birch, walnut and ash trees among others.
For centuries, the temperate rainforest provided medicine, clothing, food and building materials to the first nations of North America, and today it continues to do so, all thanks to the persistent fish with delicious pink flesh that we eat in abundance, the salmon that sow forests from the sea.
Periodista ambiental y de conservación colombiano, actualmente residente en Canadá.