History Of Chinook Salmon In South Dakota

Thousands of anglers come to South Dakota every year in order to try catching some Chinook salmon in the waters of Lake Oahe, but few of them know how these fish get there. This whole eco-system is a manmade miracle that deserves recognition and should be preserved and protected.

Chinook salmon got its name from the Chinook Indians. As the legend goes, the tribe managed to survive only due to the return of the salmon to the Columbia River. These fish are huge, this is why they are sometimes called king salmon. Chinooks are iridescent green, with some blue-green on top and silver on the sides. The upper half of their body and fins is covered with black spots that appear when salmon mature. They are anadromous species by nature. This means that they lay eggs in fresh water streams, but most of their lives they spend in the ocean. Therefore, it is impossible for them to naturally exist in Lake Oahe.

Determined people are capable of achieving some truly fascinating things if they put their minds to it. Lake Oahe is one of the finest examples of human genius, because it is one of the biggest manmade water reservoirs on the planet. It was created from a large dam. The project started in 1948 and was managed by the Army Corps of Engineers. The construction process took ten years to complete. Lake Oahe currently extends for over 23.5 million acres from Pierre (South Dakota) to Bismarck (North Dakota).

Deep cold waters of the lake are perfect for salmon. This provided the necessary incentive for people who wanted for anglers to be able to enjoy fishing in this area. They have succeeded in populating the great lake with Chinooks artificially, by breeding them in the Whitlock Spawning station.

    The life cycle of Chinook salmon in Lake Oahe consists of the following phases:

  • November-January
  • Eggs are incubated at hatchery.

  • February-March
  • Juveniles are reared.

  • April-May
  • Smolts are imprinted and released from hatchery.

  • Salmon caught by anglers.

  • September
  • Mature salmon begin spawning.

  • October
  • Biologists collect the eggs.

  • October
  • Collected eggs are fertilized.


Over a quarter of a million Chinook salmon live in the waters of Lake Oahe, South Dakota. They would have never made it there, if it were not for the genius and hard work of people. This artificial eco-system is supported by the Whitlock Spawning station that can maintain healthy population of salmon and provide anglers and local residents with enough salmon to satisfy their needs.


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