Salmon spawning season is underway in Marin County’s Lagunitas Creek and this year, there’s been some rare sightings of certain salmon species. Biologists counted close to half a dozen chum salmon and over a dozen pink salmon in the watershed since September. In normal years, you’d be lucky to find one chum salmon in the watershed. Pink salmon haven’t been seen in this area for decades. Both species normally spawn near Oregon and Washington.
“It’s very unusual,” says Marin Municipal Water District ecologist Eric Ettlinger.
So why are these other species showing up in prime coho salmon territory? Ettlinger says no one really knows why yet. But, he says, some biologists are speculating that the chum and pink traveled so far south in search of food.
“Feeding opportunities could have been poor up north this year,” says Ettlinger. “And instead of these fish swimming all the way back to their natal streams to spawn they smelled fresh water and decided to take a chance and spawn here.”
And it could also mean that the habitat in the Lagunitas Creek watershed is thriving, says Salmon Protection and Watershed Network education specialist Catie Clune.
“It’s really exciting because it shows that this is a really healthy place to live,” says Clune. “They’re straying to come here because this is such a good habitat for them.”
The watershed is home to Central California’s largest population of the endangered coho salmon. Spawning season for the coho typically begins after winter’s first rainfall. Clune says the creek is just beginning to see adult coho come back from the ocean now.
“Right now, with spawning salmon, we have three different life stages currently in the stream,” says Clune. “We have the eggs under the ground, we have the young fish from last year and we have the adults coming back.”
Historically, the watershed was home to close to 6,000 coho salmon. Last year biologists counted about 500 adult coho in the creek, says Clune.
For anyone curious to see a salmon yourself, the Salmon Protection and Watershed Network hosts creek walks along the watershed regularly during spawning season.