What Is Zombie Salmon? A Quick, Fascinating, Guide

Salmon are a common type of fish found in fresh and salt water. There are seven species of salmon in the Pacific Ocean and one in the Atlantic. We have all heard about regular salmon types, and many of us like to eat it, but have you ever heard of zombie salmon?

What is zombie salmon? Zombie salmon is a kind of salmon that uses up all its energy on taking long journeys to their spawning location to reproduce. During this journey, they barely feed. This results in their bodies shutting down and thus, rotting and decaying while swimming.

This act of sacrifice is incredibly unique to salmon. Salmon dedicate their lives to the purpose of reproduction, and although noble, this sacrifice comes with a price to pay; death and decay. Continue reading to find out more about zombie salmon.

Do Zombie Salmon Really Rot Alive?

Zombie Salmon in the water to show what is Zombie salmon

Zombie salmon rot alive. Every year, salmon return to the freshwater to spawn. This journey slowly begins the process of the salmon turning into “zombies.” Throughout the journey, salmon do not eat, and they spend all their energy on getting to fresh bodies of water, such as rivers.

The fish first go through a process where they start to change color. The pink pigments begin rising to the surface. Once the salmon arrive at their spawning area, they begin to use up all their remaining energy for the spawning process.

Male salmon will use this energy to grow enormous teeth to scare off competing male salmon, while female salmon will use their remaining energy on producing eggs. After these processes, the salmon have no energy left at all to move long distances.

After the salmon’s eggs are laid, the parent salmon will stop eating and will have no more energy to swim back to the ocean. They can still swim around and breathe. However, their organs start to decline. This is when you will see that their skin begins to rot and become moldy as well.

Why Do Salmon Rot Alive?

Salmon rot alive because they dedicate their lives to spawning and reproducing, which has huge benefits to their ecosystem. As mentioned earlier, salmon no longer have the energy or power to stay alive after they spawn. They usually die within a few days or weeks after spawning.

Salmon are unique in that sense. Other species of fish go through spawning periods and even travel as many miles as salmon do for the perfect spawning areas; however, they do not end up rotting as salmon do.

What makes salmon particularly unique, though, is their strength and dedication. Although their bodies can not handle the journey and the pressure of reproduction, they still make the sacrifice to lay their eggs. They can go for miles and hours through currents and waves just to be able to spawn.

Scientists have stated that salmon have a thing called immunosuppression. This condition puts salmon at risk of getting more infections, fungi, and diseases. This eventually leads to the salmon’s bodily decay and results in their deaths.

The way salmon reproduce also has a name. It is called semelparity. This term refers to their deaths after laying eggs for the first time, which is exactly what happens to salmon that exhaust all their energy for the sake of reproduction.

All these factors play a huge role in why salmon turn into “the swimming dead.” They are, with absolute certainty, one of the most idiosyncratic and dedicated fish out there. They are also one of the most intelligent fish, which is why anglers appreciate and love catching them. 

When Do Salmon Start Rotting?

Salmon start rotting when their bodies have exerted too much energy. This usually happens when they have traveled too far and especially after they spawn. Since salmon do not feed during this process, their body fat gets burnt when they use up too much energy, which results in them rotting.

Their immune system suffers, which leads to many infections. This is seen especially in male salmon when they grow extra large teeth to scare off any other male fish. When a male salmon bites another, this also increases the rate of infection and leads them to rot even faster.

Do Zombie Salmon Feel Pain?

Zombie salmon experience pain differently than humans do. It is not very clear how salmon feel exactly during this process; however, what we do know is that salmon feel a sense of danger when threatened; hence male salmon grow extra teeth.

Some have speculated that salmon feel a sense of tiredness or exhaustion after traveling for miles and after spawning. After exhausting all of their energy, that could be the case. This would make sense as to why they rot and eventually die.

The Role of Zombie Salmon in Their Ecosystem

Zombie salmon have a hugely positive role in the ecosystem in the Pacific Northwest, in particular. Typically, when zombie salmon die, they provide nutrients for scavengers. In addition, their bodies may end up anywhere, which allows other types of animals to feed on them.

After their deaths, zombie salmon might wash up on river shores, which provides food for insects. Their dead bodies might also end up in a place where it’s accessible for bears, making them a great and easy meal for them. This is how zombie salmon is good for the ecosystem.

Not only that, but researchers have also found that dead salmon provide food for about 137 species of insects, birds, mammals, and more. Their decaying process might be tragic, but they are just as useful as live salmon.

Without a doubt, their dedication to spawning also contributes hugely to the population of salmon. Although not all salmon die during this process, their strive makes a huge difference. Bigger, stronger salmon tend to live more often through this journey.

Do All Salmon Die After Spawning?

Although many salmon die after spawning, some of them do not. Pacific and Atlantic salmon do not die after spawning. The reason for that is that they do not have to travel miles into the river to spawn. Adult salmon can repeat the spawning cycle in the ocean for years without dying.

The type of salmon that does die is the one that travels for hundreds of miles to spawning areas in freshwater instead of spawning in the ocean. It has also been said that bigger salmon can survive long journeys, while smaller, more fragile adult salmon tend to die easily.

What Does Zombie Salmon Look Like?

As zombie salmon start to decay and their skin starts to chip off. Their color pigments are not the same as they were when they were healthier. Their bodies can not handle such long journeys, in addition to the spawning and growing extra teeth.

Some salmon also grow great amounts of bacteria on them. The more salmon decay, the more visible bacteria there are. This usually tends to exude a putrid odor. Some parts of their bodies will also swell up due to decaying, depending on how severe it is.

They are also referred to as the “living dead” and the “swimming dead” due to how they look and their state of being able to swim and breathe without actually being fully alive. And although they are not great looking, they are massively important to wildlife.

How Does Zombie Salmon Smell?

Judging by their looks, you would think that zombie salmon smelled bad. Their decaying bodies indicate that they would offer an awful stench. Well, if you have ever thought that, you’d be exactly right.

Zombie salmon do smell bad, and the more they decay, the worse they smell. Some anglers have successfully caught zombie salmon, and the way they describe the smell would drive you away in an instant. They say zombie salmon tend to smell like a combination of spoiled fish and rotten tomatoes.

It has also been stated that on North American riverbanks, many zombie salmon carcasses are found, which apparently smell far worse than they do when they are alive. The stench can reach as far as miles, so it is not a good idea to visit those riverbanks at that time.

Can You Eat Zombie Salmon?

Zombie salmon are not usually safe to eat and can be harmful to human consumption. They usually contain more bacteria than fresh meat. There are a few steps you can take to ensure that they are safe to eat, though. 

Firstly, you should avoid fish that are obviously decaying since these have the most bacteria on them. These types of fish have to be cooked at the right temperatures to kill those germs off. When cooked, you should cook it under at least 145°F; it should never be eaten raw.

Keeping zombie salmon alive for as long as possible could help slow down the process of it decaying as well. You also need to clean it well and keep it cool as soon as you catch it. It’s more dangerous to eat zombie salmon if they’ve been dead for a long time. Eating fresher ones is better.

If you are not intending on eating the fish straight away, it’s important for you to freeze or smoke it to keep it as fresh as possible. When handling this decaying fish, you should always clean your hands with soap and hot water.

Do People Eat Zombie Salmon?

Some people still eat zombie salmon, regardless of the dangers that might come with it. They usually cut the skin off and cook it well enough for it to be safe for human consumption. It’s not often recommended, however, only professionals should handle cooking zombie salmon.

Some people have stated that zombie salmon do not have as much fat on them due to them burning most of it before and during their spawning cycle. They have also stated that they do not taste as good and might have more of a watery consistency.

Most people would not want to eat zombie salmon, but some anglers find joy in cooking up their catches, even if they are decaying. Some anglers and people have stated that there is not a big noticeable difference when it comes to taste if it is cooked professionally and correctly.

It is hard to catch female zombie salmon, especially if their only focus is to lay eggs and protect their eggs. It can also be very hard to catch male zombie salmon because of their sharp teeth. However, when anglers do manage to catch them, some of them put them back and others consume them.

Zombie salmon are quite different from any other type of fish. They are interesting to learn about and many professional and beginner anglers have taken an interest in learning about them as well as catching them.

Related Questions

What Are Zombie Fish in Alaska?

Zombie fish in Alaska can be found during late summer and fall. They are salmon that appear after spawning and start decaying before they die. This process is vital for the Alaskan rivers and hugely helps the ecosystem. 

Why Do Salmon Die After Spawning?

Salmon die after spawning because they travel long journeys up to hundreds of miles for the perfect spawning areas in freshwater. Female salmon use up their last remaining bit of energy to lay eggs, while male salmon use their energy to grow extra teeth. This process leads salmon to die.

Are Zombie Fish Real?

Zombie fish are real, and they are usually found along riverbanks because salmon usually travel from saltwater to freshwater to spawn. They dedicate their lives to reproduction, which helps the ecosystem. It is common for salmon to turn into “zombies”, however, not all of them do.

How Old Is A Salmon When It Spawns?

Some types of salmon can live up to ten years and spawn multiple times, such as Steelhead and Cutthroat. Other types of salmon mature at only two years of age, while others mature up to five years. It’s safe to say that every type of salmon is different based on their sizes and type.

Helpful Resources

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