Lessons from the Salmon run
I recently watched a BBC documentary from a series entitled “Nature’s great events”, covering the ‘Great Salmon Run’ from the vast waters of the Pacific Ocean, deep into the rivers of British Columbia and Alaska.
An estimated 5 Billion salmon begin this journey annually around August. Scientists claim they have found a small element of iron in the Salmon brain, that “draws them” toward magnetic North to spawn. Whatever force it is, it’s powerful.
The first navigational hurdle these salmon face on their journey from the salty Pacific, is the smaller rivers along the coast, still shallow despite melting snow above them. Millions of the salmon struggle in these rivers and many don’t make it the first kilometer of the 3000 ahead. It was tragic watching these strong and determined salmon perishing so early in the journey.
The next obstacle facing those who’ve made it through and the others who have navigated deeper waters, is the presence of “still water” pools filled by the cascading waterfalls above them. If the salmon can’t make the necessary huge leaps to escape, they are trapped in the pools and eventually become exhausted and die. Experts equate the effort required for salmon to jump up some of the falls, to a human trying to jump a 4 story building!!
Next.. “Grizzly” bear country! The ‘Grizzlies’, have descended from the snowy peaks, thousands of meters above, where they hibernated for 6 months, and are famished. The mothers, who lead their cubs down from dens wrought out of deep snow in the mountaintops, desperately need to feast whilst teaching their cubs to hunt. As the millions of salmon launch their writhing bodies up the rapids, the “games begin”. The salmon have to run the gauntlet through the bears waiting strategically within the falls. Catching these salmon in mid-flight is an acquired skill and even experienced adults struggle.
The cubs learn by observing and copying their parents as they did earlier, sliding their way down from the snowy mountains. They gingerly begin to “fish” for the first time. The cubs often lunge, miss, lose balance and fall into the icy water. They also endure the indignity of fish crashing into their bodies and heads in their quest to hunt.
Frenzy erupts as the mother catches her first salmon in 8 months. Her need to feast and natural instinct to care for her cubs are at odds. She momentarily brushes her cubs aside as she gorges on her nutritious catch. However the squeals and pathetic “pawing” attempts at the prey by her cubs, remind her of her role to feed them. She shares with them and their excitement over their first taste of the delicacy is evident as they tear at it with sharp, previously unused teeth.
The Salmon meanwhile continue their quest to break the line of bears similar to a game we used to play at school called ‘open grounds’. It began with 2 ‘on’ and all of us running the 50 meters past them to be ‘safe’. One by one we would be caught and join those who are “on” to catch the rest. Here though, the bears are ‘on’ and the salmon, if caught, only get to be “in” (the bellies of their hunters). The bears have anticipated this for months and feast on their bounty. Millions though, escape the jaws of the Grizzlies, swimming toward their destiny.
Yet another predator awaits them in the form of the majestic, powerful and keen-eyed Bald Eagle. It is awesome watching the huge hunters effortlessly swooping down, extending their talons like a fighter plane undercarriage, clutching the hapless Salmon in their powerful claws. With tremendous speed and power, they drag their prey out the water, launching themselves into a determined climb toward the heavens. One feels for these Salmon who have given so much of themselves to get this far, only to be plucked suddenly from their natural habitat,
Those surviving the Eagle attacks, enter shallower, still, nutrition-less water,becoming easy prey for the weaker desperate bears unable to stand in the rapids.
Finally, millions of surviving salmon reach the spawning grounds. The females construct a nest in the river bed and deposit their eggs. The males sidle up behind them and squirt out a cloud of sperm, fertilising the eggs, ensuring the genesis of another generation. This act of reproduction, for most of the remaining Salmon is their final act of an epic journey. Most die in order to give birth to those who continue the cycle.
Nothing is wasted as their bodies wash up onto the land, providing food source they have carried from the ocean. These rich nutrients vital for the survival of the massive forests and vegetation of British Columbia and Alaska, help to create some of the tallest trees on our planet, also providing much needed oxygen.
I was intrigued and challenged as illustrated by the circle of life of the salmon. Let me share my thoughts with you….
- The Salmon have an innate drive to accomplish their purpose in life……’go North and multiply’
- Those that reach their final destination have overcome seemingly “impossible” barriers to get there.
- Even the “safe” still waters are a place of danger for them if they stay there too long.
- Along the way, many will die, some just as they get started.If they stop swimming against the tide, they either die or get are swept to the sea negating their destiny?
- On their journey they give a number of bears (antagonists) a tremendous defiant slap across the face
- Their Circle of life is beyond just themselves and gives life to an estimated 200 other species
- They gave give their lives to allow the next generation to go on living
What do you think of these parallels and what other lessons do you learn from this amazing event of nature? Go ahead and comment on the blog page.