The Swimming Dead: Zombie Salmon

Every year lakes and rivers are filled with thousands of pacific salmon still alive and swimming, yet rotting away. This is the story of Zombie Salmon.

The Salmon Run

Pacific salmon live interesting circular lives. They begin and end their lives in freshwater rivers, and yet they spend most of their adult lives in the Pacific Ocean. Not only do they travel down to the ocean when they are very young, but they travel back up rivers again in their late adulthood. The fish swim upstream against the current and leap up waterfalls.

This incredible journey occurs so that the salmon can spawn in the rivers they were born in. Often the fish return to their exact spawning ground. This happens every autumn, during a time known as a salmon run, on both sides of the Pacific Ocean, from California to Alaska, and from Japan to Russia. The salmon literally leap up rivers, fighting their way toward higher and higher waters. Once the adult salmon have reached their destination, they reproduce and lay eggs in the gravel beds of lakes and rivers.

Chinook Salmon Female
Chinook Salmon, female
Oncorhynchus tshawytscha (1907)
Chinook Salmon Male
Chinook Salmon, male
Oncorhynchus tshawytscha (1907)

The Circular Life of Salmon

For two to three months these baby salmon develop inside the security of soft, spherical, pinkish colored eggs. After they hatch, they remain in their gravel beds for another three to four months. At this stage baby salmon are attached to a yolk which they slowly consume. After this, they venture outside of their nest and feed upon small aquatic plants and planktons. Eventually they build up enough strength and size to migrate toward the ocean. For the largest of the Pacific salmon, the Chinook, this occurs while the fish are still very young, but other species take their time, and continue to grow in freshwater rivers for a few years.

When the salmon reach the estuary (the point where a river connects to the ocean), they must quickly adapt to the salty ocean water. Adult salmon live between three and seven years in the ocean before they migrate back to rivers to spawn. Once Pacific salmon have spawned they have completed the salmon life cycle.

And Then It Gets Morbid

Only… the fish don’t immediately die.

Instead, their bodies break down while they are still alive. The journey home for salmon is a long, difficult and painful journey. After traveling for thousands of kilometers and climbing hundreds, if not thousands of meters of elevation, their muscles decompose from the sheer exertion, and many salmon are essentially living carcasses by the time they reproduce. They rot away and slowly wait to die. It’s truly horrifying, but it means they have succeeded in their life mission, and there is nothing left for them to do.

It certainly is creepy though!

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