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Pink Salmon

Names: Pink or Humpy

Range: Pacific Rim from Korea to the Sacramento River

Size: Average 3 to 5 pounds up to 14 pounds

World Record: 14.86 pounds

Spawning: late summer through fall

Range: Pinks naturally range from along the entire Pacific Rim from Korea to California.  They can also be found in some Asian and North American rivers that drain into the Arctic Ocean.  Pinks have been established in the Great Lakes, but attempts to introduce them into the Atlantic have apparently not succeeded.

Size: Pinks are the most abundant salmon, shortest lived, and the smallest of the Pacific salmon. They average between three and five pound, maxing out at on the high side of 14 pounds. Spawning takes place from late summer through autumn, depending on the latitude and the river.  The eggs hatch in late winter and the young pinks emerge from the gravel in April and May.  They head directly to salt water – spend 18 months at sea, and then return home to spawn and die. Pinks have no fresh water phase after hatching thus can spawn in rivers that are dry in the summer.

Appearance: As with other salmon species, pinks show size and shape differences from river to river.  Humpies spawned in large rivers have larger heads, thicker caudle peduncles (that section just before the tail), and larger fins than those spawned in smaller rivers.  In some rivers the size of the pinks increases as the spawning season progresses.

Facts: Pinks get their nickname, “humpy”, because of the characteristic humpback the males develop at spawning time.  This secondary sexual characteristic may have no purpose other than identifying one male to another.  The males also develop a pronounced “kype” or hooknose and large teeth.  Oddly enough, according to a study from Lake Superior some males don’t develop the hump back.  The authors of this study claim that male pinks get the opportunity to fertilize eggs via two routes: 1) the manly way of competing for females or 2) “by sneaking”.  The sneakers lack the pronounced hump, thereby looking more like females, thus avoiding fighting with other males.

Season: Young of the year pinks migrate into salt water during the spring plankton blooms. They dine heavily on tiny crustaceans called copepods.  By midsummer of their first year wee humpies add small fish, euphausids, and insects to their diet.  Pinks more than double their size from three inches to eight inches in their first 40 days at sea.  Young pinks tend to hang around inshore for their first summer, and then they head for the wide open Pacific.

On the big ocean, humpies feed ravenously on small fish, squid, and assorted invertebrates.  The pinks from Washington and B.C. tend to stay within 500 miles of shore in the area north of Oregon and south of Prince William Sound.  The Alaskan fish appear to migrate farther west, where they intermingle with fish of Asian origin.  Pinks prefer ocean temperatures between 45 and 59 degrees Fahrenheit.  Illegal driftnet fishing is a concern with pinks because they spend so much time in international waters.

Exactly two years after they were deposited as eggs, adult pink salmon return to the home river.  Virtually no deviance from the two year life cycle seems to occur with these fish.  Odd year pink salmon from one river often have less in common genetically with even year fish from the same river than they do with odd year fish from a river hundreds of miles away.

In some areas, Puget Sound and British Columbia for example, the pinks on the odd year cycle are far more abundant.  In other areas, even year fish dominate.  Still in other locales, like Southeast Alaska, runs in odd and even years attain good numbers.  Survival at sea, spawning, success, and a host of other variables make predicting pink runs an extremely inexact science.