A Few Dead Chums

You can smell when winter arrives in Courtenay, British Columbia, particularly if you’re driving through an area of town known as the “Puntledge Bowl.”

Chum Salmon (Oncorhynchus keta)
Chum Salmon (Oncorhynchus keta) lie draped over the rocks in a side channel slowly decomposing and adding nutrients back into the river and surrounding land.

At this time of year, the Pink Salmon (Oncorhynchus gorbuscha) are done and it’s time for the “dog days” of winter and the arrival of the Chum Salmon (Oncorhynchus keta). The Chum (or Dog Salmon) run is well under way and spawned out salmon litter the sides of the Puntledge River making for surreal photography opportunities if you can stand the smell. I spent a little time this week trying out some different viewpoints a short distance from the parking area on 1 st Street.

Chum Salmon (Oncorhynchus keta) in a side channel
A quiet side channel makes for a peaceful resting place for these dead Chum Salmon (Oncorhynchus keta).

Chum Salmon are large salmon, second only to Chinook in size. They average 4.5 to 6.5 kg in weight and up to 60 cm in length. When spawning the sides of the fish become striking with blotchy, purple and green bars. Their jaws become pronouncedly hooked and they develop large “dog-like” teeth.

Chum Salmon (Oncorhynchus keta) detail
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder – even in death, these Chum Salmon (Oncorhynchus keta) are striking.

One of the last species to spawn on the west coast and Vancouver Island, the Chum run is a natural spectacle. From a human perspective, the Chum is considered to be less desirable than other salmon because it is lower in terms of fat and oil when compared to other species on the west coast. However, the dead and dying fish serve as a food source for thousands of gulls and seals gorge on the live fish as they enter the river from the estuary. Other scavengers like Bald Eagles gather for the feast as well. They don’t seem to be too concerned about the lack of fat!

Gulls feeding on Chum Salmon (Oncorhynchus keta)
Several different species of gulls were feeding on spawned out Chum Salmon (Oncorhynchus keta) on the banks of the Puntledge River in Courtenay.

This is the last salmon run of year in the Puntledge and well worth checking out. The sheer number of dead fish on the shore and in the spawning channels is overwhelming!


Getting There:

Use the Google Map below to get to Puntledge Park in Courtenay, BC.