What is a Pink Salmon?

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  • Written By: Vanessa Harvey
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 02 October 2019
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A pink salmon is one of many types of fish that have the scientific name of Corhynchus gorbuscha and the common names of humpback salmon, humpy salmon, dog salmon and hone salmon. It is the smallest salmon in the northwest United States and western Canada, reaching an average length of 20 to 25 inches (50.8 to 63.5 cm) and an average weight of 3 to 4 pounds (1.4 to 1.8 kg). They can grow, however, grow up to 30 inches (76.2 cm) long and weigh as much as 12 pounds (5.4 kg). Pink salmon have a greenish blue metallic hue when viewed in the water from above and appear silvery in the water when viewed from below.

Almost immediately after leaving the gravel of the streams in which they hatch, they move into nursery areas and shallow sea waters. Pink salmon are called alevins, young fry or yolk-sac fry at this stage because they feed on the nutritious yolk sac from which they hatched until they can eat other foods such as plankton, some insects and larval fish while growing to the size they need to be to live in the open sea. They live at sea for approximately 18 months, after which they instinctively migrate back to the stream in which they hatched, and there they will spawn.


Male pink salmon undergo some significant changes in their physical appearance during the period of spawning. The male develops a hump on his back, from which the names of humpback salmon and humpy salmon were derived. The color of his sides changes to a reddish-yellow, and the tip of the upper jaw curves downward while the tip of the lower jaw curves upward, forming a hooked jaw appearance.

Females use their tails to dig a nest called a redd in their natal stream, in which they deposit between 1,500 and 2,000 eggs, depending on their size. One or more males immediately fertilize the eggs, and the female covers them. This process is referred to as spawning.

Approximately two weeks after spawning, the male and female pink salmon die. The pink salmon sometimes is referred to as the "bread and butter" for the fishermen of Canada and the U.S. states of Alaska and Washington because of its economic importance in those regions. Pink salmon is considered a healthy meat for people to consume and is frequently eaten fresh in certain parts of the U.S. It also is commonly sold in cans in many grocery stores in the U.S.


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