A video captured by nonprofit group Columbia Riverkeeper shows the horrifying effects of the Pacific Northwest heat wave on sockeye salmon. Just short of a salmon snuff film, the video shows listless fish dotted with white fungal patches and red lesions as they struggle to survive an epically hot river.
Salmon are born in freshwater, venture into the ocean to mature, then return to their birthplace to spawn. The group of salmon captured on the video was traveling upstream in the Columbia River en route to their spawning grounds. They changed course, veering into the Little White Salmon River, apparently hoping this tributary would be cooler than the Columbia.
The water had reached a salmon-scorching 70 degrees Fahrenheit (21 degrees Celsius), a temperature that can kill the fish if they stay in it too long. In 2018, a judge ordered the EPA to protect the salmon by not letting climate change and dams cause the Columbia River temperature to rise above 68 degrees. However, three years ago nobody predicted the recent 115-degree day in Oregon.
Brett VandenHeuvel, executive director of Columbia Riverkeeper, likened the salmon’s struggle to keep swimming to a human running a marathon on a 100-degree day. These salmon can’t spawn in the tributary and have since likely died from heat stress.
Nobody knows how many salmon have died from recent high temps in the Columbia. But with tens of thousands of sockeye salmon currently in the Columbia and nearby Snake Rivers — and more hot weather coming — the casualties will increase. The Snake River sockeye are endangered, making matters worse.
“It’s heartbreaking to watch animals dying unnaturally,” VandenHeuvel said, as reported by The Guardian. “And worse, thinking about the cause of it. This is a human caused problem, and it really makes me think about the future.”
The peeling white patches on the salmon in the video, which make them look like fish zombies, are likely due to a fungal infection linked to hot water stress.
Lead image via Pixabay