Sockeye salmon are known for their bright red skin, but are actually blue while in the ocean.
Sockeye salmon are known for their bright red skin, but are actually blue while in the ocean.
Photograph by Robert Sisson, Nat Geo Image Collection

Sockeye Salmon

Common Name:
Sockeye Salmon
Scientific Name:
Oncorhynchus nerka
Type:
Fish
Diet:
Omnivore
Group Name:
Bind, run
Average Life Span In The Wild:
3 to 5 years
Size:
Up to 33 inches
Weight:
5 to 15 pounds
IUCN Red List Status:
Least concern
Current Population Trend:
Stable

The name sockeye comes from a poor attempt to translate the word suk-kegh from British Columbia's native Coast Salish language. Suk-kegh means red fish.

Characteristics

The sockeye, also called red or blueback salmon, is among the smaller of the seven Pacific salmon species, but their succulent, bright-orange meat is prized above all others. They range in size from 24 to 33 inches in length and weigh between 5 and 15 pounds.

Life Cycle and Spawning

Like all other Pacific salmon, they are born in fresh water. However, sockeye require a lake nearby to rear in. Once hatched, juvenile sockeyes will stay in their natal habitat for up to three years, more than any other salmon. They then journey out to sea, where they grow rapidly, feeding mainly on zooplankton. They stay in the ocean for one to four years.

Sea-going sockeyes have silver flanks with black speckles and a bluish top, giving them their "blueback" name. However, as they return upriver to their spawning grounds, their bodies turn bright red and their heads take on a greenish color. Breeding-age males have a distinctive look, developing a humped back and hooked jaws filled with tiny, easily visible teeth. Males and females both die within a few weeks after spawning.

Population

Sockeyes are the third most abundant of the species of Pacific salmons and are a keystone in the North American commercial fisheries.

This photo was submitted to Your Shot, our photo community on Instagram. Follow us on Instagram at @natgeoyourshot or visit us at natgeo.com/yourshot for the latest submissions and news about the community.
This photo was submitted to Your Shot, our photo community on Instagram. Follow us on Instagram at @natgeoyourshot or visit us at natgeo.com/yourshot for the latest submissions and news about the community.
Photograph by Jason Ching, National Geographic Your Shot

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