Ben Hohensatt / Capital City Weekly
A dedicated audio player plays “The Salmon Dance,” a 2007 track from electronic duo the Chemical Brothers. The song, which was released as a single 15 years ago, features several salmon facts. Ahead of the oddball milestone, the Empire checked those facts with an Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist.

Ben Hohensatt / Capital City Weekly A dedicated audio player plays “The Salmon Dance,” a 2007 track from electronic duo the Chemical Brothers. The song, which was released as a single 15 years ago, features several salmon facts. Ahead of the oddball milestone, the Empire checked those facts with an Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist.

Factual or fishy? Fact-checking ‘The Salmon Dance’ for the song’s 15th anniversary

Fact-checking the “Salmon Dance” on its 15th anniversary

The year that delivered the iPhone, the microblogging site Tumblr and a long-awaited Best Directing Oscar for Martin Scorsese also saw the release of “The Salmon Dance” by the Chemical Brothers.

The English electronic duo of “Block Rockin’ Beats” and “Galvanize” fame released the second single off their sixth album on Sept. 10, 2007. The song, a modest hit in non-U.S. markets and basically a novelty song stateside, features a handful of robotically read salmon facts delivered by an in-song character named Sammy the Salmon alongside rap verses from Fatlip of legendary Hip-Hop group The Pharcyde and what music identification site Who Sampled IDs as a snippet of a Beethoven sonata.

To mark the 15th anniversary of the oddball song that has a little over 26 million streams on Spotify, the Juneau Empire caught up with Scott Forbes, commercial fisheries area management biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, to see if the salmon facts in “The Salmon Dance” scan as fishy or if they hold water.

The verdict?

“The quality of the salmon facts is very general but good,” Forbes said in an email, adding he planned to show the radio edit of the song to his girls. “Having an accurate educational discussion with a salmon while rapping about a new dance is awesome.”

However, according to Forbes there’s a lot of room to flesh out the bare-bones statements included on the song. Below are fun facts pulled from the song and extra context from Forbes to put a finer point on the generally accurate statements.

Sammy the Salmon statement: All my peeps spend part of their life in freshwater And part of their life in saltwater.

The extra context: Salmon are not people but are fish and although they share the same taxonomic phylum (Chordata), the five species of semelparous North American Pacific salmon are in the family Salmonidae and the genus Oncorhynchus. Chinook, sockeye, coho, pink, and chum salmon are anadromous fish meaning they hatch and migrate from freshwater to the ocean, where they gain 90% or more of their weight, and back to spawn in their natal streams. Most Chinook, sockeye, and chum salmon spend multiple years in ocean environments before returning to freshwater to spawn, and most Chinook, sockeye, and coho salmon rear in freshwater for at least one year before migrating to the ocean.

Sammy the Salmon statement: We change ‘round a couple of days after spawning, then we die.

The extra context: Salmon undergo a physical transformation, with obvious color and body shape changes, when they transition from the ocean back to freshwater as adults. They can go several months without food during the freshwater spawning migration and their condition deteriorates as they use stored nutrients for energy and gonad (organs producing eggs and sperm) development. Some Taku River Chinook salmon enter the river as early as April and generally don’t arrive on the spawning grounds until late July or August after traveling hundreds of river miles. Nutrients from salmon carcasses are vitally important for maintaining aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems.

Sammy the Salmon statement: Most of our friends find their home waters by sense of smell, which is even more keen than that of a dog or a bear.

The extra context: Salmon can smell chemical odors down to one part per million and specific odors that young fish experience as they begin their downstream migration to the ocean are stored in the brain and used years later as adults when attempting to return to their natal streams. This imprinting is successfully used by hatcheries around Southeast Alaska, such as DIPAC (Douglas Island Pink and Chum, Inc.), causing salmon to return to various release sites – consider Chinook salmon to Fish Creek Pond, coho salmon to Sheep Creek, or chum salmon to Amalga Harbor.

Sammy the Salmon statement: My family also rely on ocean currents, tides (and the) gravitational pull of the moon.

The extra context: Salmon navigation in the open ocean is not completely understood, but environmental cues such as day length, the sun’s position, the earth’s magnetic field, and water salinity and temperature gradients likely give them information about position and direction of travel. The degree to which salmon use these cues is likely due to situational factors like the species, geographic location, and oceanographic conditions like currents and tides. A new collaborative effort, the International Year of the Salmon, is attempting to unravel some of these open ocean salmon migration mysteries. Check it out here:

Sammy the Salmon statement: Did you know…that I could go to Japan and back?

The extra context: The known ocean ranges of many North American and Asian salmon are broadly overlapping with genetic research on chum salmon demonstrating that Asian fish extend farther eastward than North American fish extend westward into the Pacific Ocean. The westernmost known range of Alaska-origin Pacific salmon is much closer to Japan than Southeast Alaska.

Sammy the Salmon statement: Polluted water can kill both baby salmon that are developing. And the adult salmon that are on their way to spawn.

The extra context: Clean water begets healthy salmon runs and introduced toxins can cause a multitude of direct and indirect adverse effects in salmon at all life stages. Although Southeast Alaska is fortunate to have minimal human development and thousands of miles of intact streams and rivers, there are examples of freshwater pollution in our own “backyard” with a long-abandoned copper-lead-zinc mine discharging toxic acidic wastewater into the Taku River watershed just above the U.S./Canada border since 1957. The ocean is a gigantic mixing zone and effects of relatively new problems like microplastics on salmon are unknown. Recent fisheries disasters, like that declared for 2020 Southeast Alaska salmon fisheries, involve a host of causative agents with climate change likely playing a significant role. There is much to learn about the impact of climate change on salmon and fortunately salmon have evolved in a dynamic environment that has produced a high degree of variability and therefore resilience. Maintaining water quality can give salmon the edge they need to utilize this resilience.

Contact Ben Hohenstatt at (907)308-4895

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