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.
Click on image to enlarge
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
Maturing sockeye 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 a typical sockeye color pattern
of a bright red body with green on the head and tail.
Ocean coloration, sexes similar.
- Silvery sides with a green or blue back and white tips on the
ventral and anal fins. Sockeye have no large spots on back or tail,
but some may have speckling on the back. They have no silver pigment
on the tail, and they have a prominent gold eye color.
prominent spots on back or tail (small speckles may be present)
is white with a white gum line and dark tongue
gold colored eye
- No silver
pigment on the tail
Typical Coloration - Body
color typically various shades of red , and the head and tail will be
a greenish color. Males may display a vertical pattern of bars along the
sides, and spawning females will usually display a dark vertical stripe.
The striped pattern is a signal to other fish that is used to reduce aggression.
See Chum Salmon Colors for a discussion of the varying colors displayed by spawning salmon.
Male spawning colors
Female spawning colors
- Identified by the bright red to dark red body color, and the greenish
color on the head and tail. Sockeye are the only salmon species that displays
different spawning colors on the body and head.
||Live female sockeye
spawner digging her redd and displaying the typical dark vertical
The identification of male
and female sockeye 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. Sockeye spawners, however, are easily sexed
and the following guide illustrates the different male and female characteristics.
Body Shape - Male sockeye 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
(see photograph below).
Male (top) and female (bottom) sockeye salmon in spawning
Head and Jaws -
The size and shape of the head and jaws are the most obvious characters
that show differences between male and female sockeye spawners. The males
display larger heads with elongated jaws, hooked snouts, and characteristic
strongly developed teeth. The head of the female sockeye changes only
slightly from the ocean form, with a slight elongation of the jaws and
development of more modest spawner teeth.
sockeye spawner showing strongly developed jaws and teeth.
sockeye spawner with more modest head and jaw development.
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.