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Chum Salmon
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Chum Salmon Identification

Juvenile Chum ID

During their first year of life, young salmon can often be difficult to identify, particularly after they lose their parr marks. The following simple guide to juvenile salmon identification, is from The Stream Scene - Watersheds, Wildlife and People (1990), by Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Portland, Oregon. For more definitive identification information, two more comprehensive field guides are listed below.

Identification features of juvenile Pacific salmon

Click on chart for enlargement

Additional Reading

Field Identification of Coastal Juvenile Salmonids (1997), by Pollard, Hartman, Groot, and Edgell. Harbor Publishing, Madeira Park, BC Canada.

Key to field identification of anadromous juvenile salmonids in the Pacific Northwest (1972), by McConnell and Snyder. U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington D.C.

Adult Chum ID

Maturing chum salmon return to Washington waters in the typical silvery ocean coloration. As the fish near their spawning streams, they begin to undergo changes in both color and physical form. The color gradually changes from silver with a dark back, to spawning colors dominated by an irregular pattern of bars on their sides.

Ocean Phase

bullet Typical Coloration - Silvery sides with a green or blue back and white tips on the ventral and anal fins. Some black speckling may be present, and faint indications of a vertical bar pattern may be visible.
bullet Distinguishing characteristics - Identified by the absence of large black spots on the body or fins, the slender caudal peduncle, and large scales.

Ocean bright chum salmon
Ocean coloration, sexes similar.

Spawning Phase

bullet Typical Coloration - Body color typically olive or gray with maroon and black vertical bars. Actively spawning females and subdominant males can display a horizontal black stripe in place of the bar pattern. The striped pattern is a signal to other fish that is used to reduce aggression.
bullet Distinguishing characteristics - Identified by the vertical pattern of bars along the sides, dark or black ventral surfaces, and white tips on the ventral and anal fins.
Male chum salmon in spawning colors Male chum salmon in spawning colors
Female chum salmon in spawning colors Femle chum salmon in spawning colors
Live female chum spawner showing the striped pattern
Live female chum spawner showing the striped pattern
Subdominant male chum spawner  also  displaying a striped pattern
Subdominant male chum spawner also displaying a striped pattern

Sexing Chum Spawners

The identification of male and female chum salmon can be difficult when the fish are in marine waters and have not yet begun to develop the sexual characteristics associated with maturation and spawning. Chum spawners, however, are easily sexed and the following guide illustrates the different male and female characteristics.

    bullet Body Shape
    Male chum spawners are deeper bodied than females, and have flat sides with hollow bellies. The females retain the more slender body shape of the ocean fish and will display a rounded belly when distended with eggs.

    Male (top) and female (bottom) chum salmon in spawning colors
    Male (top) and female (bottom) chum salmon in spawning colors

    bullet Head and Jaws
    The size and shape of the head and jaws are the most obvious characters that show differences between male and female chum spawners. The males display large heads with massive, elongated jaws, hooked snouts, and characteristic dog-like teeth. The head of the female chum changes only slightly from the ocean form, with a slight elongation of the jaws and development of more modest spawner teeth.
    Male chum spawner  showing strongly developed jaws and teeth Female chum spawner with more  modest head and jaw development
    Male chum spawner showing strongly developed jaws and teeth Female chum spawner with more modest head and jaw development
    bullet Adipose Fins
    An often over-looked sexual characteristic in Pacific salmon is the enlarged adipose fin on mature males, typically 2-3 time larger than on female fish.
    Close-up of enlarged male adipose fin The female adipose fin retains its pre-spawning size and shape
    Close-up of enlarged male adipose fin The female adipose fin retains its pre-spawning size and shape