|The nicest lady|
It's a heroic little venture those fish have going. Zip out to the ocean, spend a few years, and motor back to the home stream just in time to spawn and drop dead. Reproduction is the usual collaborative effort between males and females, but it's hard to see what's in it for anybody. There's a biological imperative operating, and whoever doesn't get with the program is a dead-end kid, in terms of personal legacy. But what a shoddy deal.
The way it works is the salmon make their way to the cold, fresh waters of their childhood. The females set about making a nest in the gravelly stream bottom. They do this by turning sideways and going whappity whappity whappity with their tails, cleaning the scuzz off the pebbles and sending the smaller stuff and silt downstream, until they've scooped out a bit of a depression. The finished product is called a "redd" and can be observed as a clean patch of gravel in the stream bottom, as well as in crossword puzzles. Once she's got everything just so, she signals a male from among the group hanging out nearby, and they sidle up to each other and she drops some eggs and he shoots his wad of milt and the female makes an attempt to cover the eggs and whatever doesn't get eaten by birds or bears or other fish turns into salmon babies. Once the little guys are an inch long, we call them "fry," which is just rude. It's like calling piglets "roast."
Many of the salmon we saw looked, from the relatively good condition of their tails, as though they had died before spawning, which is altogether the wrong order of events. It's been a rough year for water in the Northwest. It's too shallow. It's too warm. It's too altogether missing.
But it's all the same to the bears, who'll take their fish dead, dying, or shiny. They haul them up into the woods, eat their brains, discard the rest, and poop, thus effectively redistributing nitrogen to the forest plants. You always knew what they do in the woods. Now you know why. They're always thinking of others, bears.
Here's a little video of our salmon, plus a bonus video of an American Dipper who thinks there might just be salmon eggs around (and he's right):