Little Larry Swims: Whoop Whoop! Living the Anadromous Life

Bada Boom! The big blue ocean!

I made it to the Pacific and this is my home for the next 2 to 3 years. The last stretch of my epic swim was through the Columbia River Basin…But few people understand how big this river basin really is. 

Let me tell you more, because this is the biggest adventure I’ve ever taken! 

Before it meets the rush of the Pacific Ocean, the Columbia River travels 1,200 miles from its headwaters in British Columbia, Canada.  The Columbia River Basin is one of the largest watersheds in the United States, draining an area approximately the size of France. That’s positively HUGE.

Its long and winding banks connect communities in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana, and are surrounded by majestic mountain peaks like those of the Rocky and Cascade mountain ranges.

View of Columbia Gorge
View of the Columbia Gorge, as seen from atop Beacon Rock in Pierce National Wildlife Refuge (Nov. 20, 2021). Credit: Brent Lawrence/USFWS

But I’m leaving it all behind. I’m onto the next thing and that’s the Pacific Ocean. This will be my home for the next few years. Here’s a glimpse of what’s to come.

I’ll enter the ocean from the coast of Oregon, testing out my new skills as a saltwater fish, truly living the anadromous life! Then I’ll eat and swim and eat and swim my way all the way up to Alaska. I’ll put a fair amount of energy into dodging the hungry apex predators who would like to make me their lunch. Fortunately for me, the orcas like my cousin the chinook best.

Swimming in a sea of change

River and ocean conditions are fluctuating all the time, but it’s not just salmon who are feeling it. So are our favorite foods. Sockeye salmon like me eat other fish, like herring, along with tiny ocean crustaceans. But as the ocean water has been getting warmer due to climate change, there haven’t been as many of these tiny crustaceans for me, or the fish I eat, to consume. What could this teach us about the food chain? 

Everything is connected.

Migrating fish face lots of challenges, some that can’t be fixed right away, some that can. Some in the ocean, and some in the rivers–and scientists agree that restoring the health of the rivers is critical. Salmon hatch and reproduce in the river, which makes ita very important  part of our life cycle. Scientists also agree that the best way to make the rivers healthy for Columbia River salmon is to take out the lower Snake River dams, as they did on the Elwha River. 

It’s a no-brainer: Fish need a river

The salmon recovery on the Elwha River is a happy story of success. But before the removal of dams, it was a sad story of extinction. For a century, the Glines Canyon and Elwha Dam blocked steelhead behind a cement wall and limited salmon spawning habitat to 5 miles. It led to the extinction of the Elwha chinook, a fish that could weigh up to an impressive 100 pounds. 

After around 100 years, the dams were finally removed. Salmon and steelhead numbers, previously at perilous lows, rebounded. But it didn’t stop there: the American dipper returned to the area, habitat for crabs, clams, shorebirds, insects and willows, alders, maple, and cottonwood trees was restored.. It’s proof positive that removing dams and restoring a free-flowing river is good for fish and other wildlife. 

Left image: Elwha Dam removal work on October 20, 2011. Right image: Former Elwha Dam site on May 1, 2012. Credit: NPS

River restoration will be on my mind after three years in the ocean. I’ll have my fill of herring and start heading back toward the Columbia River to take on the awe-inspiring 900-mile journey. I’ll be fighting the current, seeking cool waters, dodging more predators and fighting my way up the lower Snake River, so I can find my way back into Redfish Lake. 

Lucky for me, I won’t be meeting these guys along the way. But I’ll need help from people if I’m not going to be another Larry, all alone on the biggest day of my life. Will you take the pledge? 

What did my journey teach you?

Graphic: Little Larry

More about this series

Little Larry is a tiny fish on a big journey—swimming 900-miles from Idaho to the Pacific—tail first! His journey is a reminder that salmon could become extinct.

Follow his story and cheer him on as he swims to beat the odds!

Little Larry Swims: A Small Salmon on a Big Journey

Little Larry Swims: Every Salmon Has Superpowers

Little Larry Swims: High Tailin’ Salmon

Little Larry Swims: Salmon in the Trees?

Little Larry Swims: Some Like it Hot! Salmon Like it Cold.

Little Larry Swims: Whoop Whoop! Living the Anadromous Life

Who Was Lonesome Larry

Watch the video

Meet some kids who are speaking up for salmon.