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For the first time in 8 years, chinook salmon return to rehabilitated Thornton Creek to spawn

Seattle Post-Intelligencer logo Seattle Post-Intelligencer 11/15/2018 By Natalie Guevara, SeattlePI

Finally, a bit of good salmon news this week, courtesy Seattle Public Utilities (SPU).

For the first time in eight years, chinook salmon have returned to Thornton Creek, in northeast Seattle, to spawn.

a large body of water: Transient orcas eating a seal in San Juan Channel, north of Friday Harbor in March. © Provided by Hearst Communications, Inc Transient orcas eating a seal in San Juan Channel, north of Friday Harbor in March.

The creek was the subject of an $8 million rehabilitation project in 2014, where SPU crews replaced 1,000 feet of a narrow, deep streambed with a wider, engineered streambed. This keeps high-quality gravel in place for spawning salmon, according to a release by SPU.

an animal swimming in the water © Provided by Hearst Communications, Inc

At least one pair of salmon has taken advantage of the improvements, four years later.

For the first time in eight years, Chinook salmon have been spotted spawning in a SPU-restored area of Thornton Creek.

For the first time in eight years, Chinook salmon have been spotted spawning in a SPU-restored area of Thornton Creek.
© Provided by Hearst Communications, Inc

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a close up of an animal: Aerial images documenting the body profile of pregnant southern resident killer whales. In the left photo, J17 is shown with an expanded profile. The photo on the right shows K27's profile compared to her juvenile son's profile. © Provided by Hearst Communications, Inc Aerial images documenting the body profile of pregnant southern resident killer whales. In the left photo, J17 is shown with an expanded profile. The photo on the right shows K27's profile compared to her juvenile son's profile. a group of people on a boat in a body of water: In this undated file photo, a pod of orcas swims in front of the Seattle skyline. © Provided by Hearst Communications, Inc In this undated file photo, a pod of orcas swims in front of the Seattle skyline.

"The chinook salmon pair traveled almost one-and-a-half miles to select this site for spawning. That's a vote of confidence!" SPU biologist Katherine Lynch said in a statement.

Like other species of salmon, chinook salmon spend their lives in the ocean, but move to freshwater to lay eggs in streams and rivers. As juvenile salmon mature, they move slowly down those rivers and streams to estuaries, and eventually enter ocean waters.

a person riding a surf board on a body of water: Dolphins are seen from Harbor Breeze Cruises' The Triumphant ship out of Long Beach, Calif, on a warm first day of Spring, Sunday, March 20, 2016. © Provided by Hearst Communications, Inc Dolphins are seen from Harbor Breeze Cruises' The Triumphant ship out of Long Beach, Calif, on a warm first day of Spring, Sunday, March 20, 2016.

Chinook salmon are an endangered species. They are the Pacific's largest species of salmon and are a critical source of food for Puget Sound's resident orcas.

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a whale jumping out of the water: In this July 13, 2016 photo provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, killer whales swim off the coast of Maui, Hawaii. Researchers returning from a 30-day expedition to study whales and dolphins around the Hawaiian islands are looking for clues to help sustain healthy populations of the marine mammals. NOAA scientists told reporters Thursday, July 28, 2016 that gathering data on the animals is often difficult, especially around the windward coasts of the Hawaiian Islands. (NOAA via AP) © Provided by Hearst Communications, Inc In this July 13, 2016 photo provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, killer whales swim off the coast of Maui, Hawaii. Researchers returning from a 30-day expedition to study whales and dolphins around the Hawaiian islands are looking for clues to help sustain healthy populations of the marine mammals. NOAA scientists told reporters Thursday, July 28, 2016 that gathering data on the animals is often difficult, especially around the windward coasts of the Hawaiian Islands. (NOAA via AP)

Orcas are facing their own plights. Experts have said that dwindling chinook salmon supplies and shrinking salmon size, plus pollution accumulated in the salmon, all contribute to the shrinking population of resident killer whales, which have reached a 30-year low.

Earlier this year, restaurants around Seattle stopped serving Chinook salmon in an effort to help preserve the population for hungry orcas, fueled by the grief of one orca mother who carried her deceased calf with her for 17 days and 1,000 miles. The calf had died minutes after being born.

Producer Natalie Guevara can be contacted at natalie.guevara@seattlepi.com.

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