Salmon Facts

Salmon are anadromous fish, which means they hatch in fresh water, journey to the ocean, then migrate back.  Some species are restricted to fresh water throughout their lives.

The term “salmon” comes from the Latin salmo, meaning “to leap.”

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Salmon Facts for Kids

  • Most salmon live 2 to 7 years
  • They eat Shrimp, Stoneflies, Grasshoppers, Krill, Squid
  • They typically weigh approximately 7-12 lbs
  • They grow to 28-32 inches long after 2 years at sea
  • Saltwater salmon travel 18 miles a day


Salmon migrate long distances. Juveniles migrate to the ocean from freshwater streams. Salmon stay in their natal habitat for up to three years. 

Salmon spend one to five years in the ocean as adults.

In order to navigate back to their original spawning grounds, salmon use smell to navigate hundreds of miles against the current.

Most male Atlantic salmon die within a few weeks of spawning. However, 10 to 40 percent of female Atlantic salmon return to the sea. 


Overfishing and destruction of habitat following European settlement significantly reduced Atlantic salmon numbers along the North Atlantic coast. 

Today, there are only a few rivers in Maine where Atlantic salmon live. 

Species of Pacific salmon grow in the Pacific Northwest and the western U.S.

The Salmon Life Cycle


Salmon have a complex life cycle. Salmon begin their lives by hatching from eggs called alevin (or sac-fry). 

Alevin stays in the gravel for a few weeks, absorbing their yolks and eating stuff that floats through.


They begin to lose their stripes around the time they are as long as your hand. Smolts are the teenage salmon. They are tempted to leave home and travel. 

Smolts travel to the ocean in the current. While on their journey, smolts go through smoltification. 

They’re changing at this time, so they can live in salt water. It eats insects from the water, worms, shrimp, and tadpoles.


Adult salmon know it’s time to go home when they feel the urge to spawn. These salmon are usually 2 to 6 years old at this point. 

Idaho’s salmon have to swim 900 miles to spawn. How do they find their way home? Even scientists don’t know, but it’s got to do with homing. 

As smolts, they store scent information about their birth stream, and as they swim to the ocean, they continue to store it. Salmon create a scent trail in this way that they can follow in the future.

How Big are Salmon

The Chinook/King salmon can reach 58 inches (1 meter) long and 126 pounds (57.2 kg). 

A pink salmon can reach 30 inches (0.8 meters)

What eats Atlantic salmon?

In freshwater, juvenile salmon are eaten by a number of different types of fish

  • Smallmouth bass
  • Striped bass
  • Northern pike
  • Slimy sculpin

Birds also eat them

  • Kingfisher
  • Double-crested cormorant
  • Mergansers
  • Snowy egret
  • Osprey
  • Blue heron

Mammals will also find salmon tasty

  • Otters
  • mink
  • Frogs

In the ocean, there are large predatory fish that also find salmon tasty

  • Atlantic halibut
  • Atlantic bluefin tuna
  • Swordfish
  • Striped bass

What’s the difference between Atlantic and Pacific Salmon?

There’s actually one species of Atlantic salmon in the genus Salmo. In the genus Oncorhynchus, there are seven different species of salmon.

Despite living short lives after spawning, Atlantic salmon can survive and spawn again. Steelheads are the only Pacific salmon that survive after spawning.

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