Phenology Files: September 2023

phenology fi-ˈnä-lə-jē n 1 : a branch of science dealing with the relations between climate and periodic biological phenomena (such as bird migration or plant flowering) 2: periodic biological phenomena that are correlated with climatic conditions.

Pink salmon return to the Dungeness River

Pink salmon in the Dungeness River by John Gussman

For the last few weeks, a few hundred thousand pink salmon have been returning to the Dungeness River to spawn. The smallest of the five species of Pacific salmon, their life cycle is so regular that runs can be predicted to return to their home river every other year. In some rivers, they come back on even years (2018, 2020, 2022…) and on other rivers and streams they return on odd years (2019, 2021…). As you’ve probably guessed, we have an odd year run on the Dungeness. How did this strange split happen? Recent research suggests the last glacial maximum (the period when the continental ice sheets reached their maximum mass during the last ice age) separated pink salmon populations and created a genetic difference in the runs.

Fall salmon returns help mark the changing of the season on the Olympic Peninsula. This year’s pink run is coming to a close, but you can certainly still see them in the river and they are a sight you don’t want to miss! We recommended heading out to the new levee trail along the river near the historic Dungeness Schoolhouse or the Dungeness River Nature Center for the best view. Polarized glasses can help you see into the water. Chinook are also starting to make their way upstream, and you may catch a glimpse of them too!

Salmon are a precious part of our local ecosystems and culture. Please support the salmon by keeping pets out of the water, keeping your distance, and practicing Leave No Trace principles during your visit.