Smolting

coloured mosaic
meet me there – or meet me here
silenced hues of blue


Each spring beneath the gravel of freshwater rivers in British Columbia baby salmon (or fry) start to stir. They wiggle their little bodies out from under the stones and hang out close to home until they’re ready for their seaward journey.

Most salmon fry spend 1-2 years feeding and growing nearby home. It’s a simple life for these young fishes, so long as they blend in with the vegetation. It just so happens that fry dress in mottled patterns and vertical stripes that provide camouflage from predators creeping among the cattails and cockleburs. When it is time to head out to the ocean for more serious feasting, juvenile fish undergo an elaborate transformation.

Not to be confused with moulting, smolting refers to the complex physiological, behavioural and morphological changes juvenile salmon undergo prior to leaving freshwater and entering a new, salty world. The gills start to produce small pumps that shuttle salt ions out of the body. Aggressive fish play nice and join schools. Importantly, a smolt’s sense of fashion changes. Dark body markings are replaced with a lustrous, metallic coat now superior for open ocean camouflage. How vogue!

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