I touched a salmon

I touched a salmon. I was swimming underwater with thousands of wild pink salmon and reached out my hand. There was a crowd of fish and they couldn’t all dodge away. I touched one and it felt electric.

I think the excitement came from being in the salmon’s world. I was swimming alone in the murky darkness of the Duwamish River and the river was alive with thousands of wild pink salmon. It was a bit spooky, they appeared as if from nowhere.

The fish swam away from me except when the river got crowded. Then they passed close by, seeming calm. I started imagining what it might feel like to touch a one.

The first few times I reached out my hand, the salmon darted away. It seemed ridiculous, I was too clumsy and slow. These fish had survived predators much quicker than me.

Then I reached into a crowd of fish swimming slowly across my path and it happened. These fish were closer, and I felt a surge of power as my hand touched the side of a fish and it bolted. I also extended my GoPro camera into the school of fish. I felt a jolt and saw the camera push a salmon against the bottom of the river. I had accidentally trapped a fish with the camera. I saw its side shining white as it thrashed free. Then they were gone.

Several times I felt a light flutter of fish brushing past me as I swam through a school. As I swam downstream, the salmon would move away from me until their upstream urge overcame their fear and they started streaming past me. I swam inside schools of salmon as they parted to go around me on both sides.

The most unbelievable part of my adventure was the urban location…just a few miles upstream from the highly polluted part of the Duwamish River in Seattle. Only 10 miles away from my office in downtown Seattle. This was not a remote salmon river in Alaska, and these fish had just finished swimming upstream through some of the most polluted sites in the region.

It’s great to see that the river is still alive. Pink salmon still swim in the Duwamish River, in great numbers. There’s work to be done restoring the river, and these salmon prove there is still hope for the Duwamish.