A trip to the Chittenden Locks in Ballard in the fall is a good time to see salmon making their way up through the fish ladder en route to their spawning grounds. If we know the salmon are there, so do their predators. On this day, it was seals. Seals and sea lions are both common at the locks when hunting for salmon. A pair of seals were playing around in the waters near the locks, no doubt choosing their moment for a snack. Another pair of seals had been a bit more aggressive in their thinking. They had made their way into the fish ladder itself.
There are gates on the entrance to the ladder that are intended to allow the fish through and not the larger predators but I guess on this day, the gates had been left open. Our first glimpse on one of the seals was as it was chomping its way through a salmon it had already caught. It was making swift work of it. A while later we saw them again. They would haul themselves out on to the walls of the ladder for a break before diving back in to search for the next snack!
The salmon head to spawn in phases with the three different breeds coming at slightly different times. They head through the ladder at the locks in Ballard in the fall but, before they head into Lake Washington, they pause in the approach area. The transition from salt water to fresh is something that they have to adjust to and the area just by the locks where the fresh water is spilling out provides a good place for them to get adjusted. They can stay for a couple of weeks or more. The result was that we saw a lot of salmon swimming around in the waters by the dam. This was not a risk free occupation as shall be covered in a future post.
As the locks at Ballard transfer the water, they manage to catch a lot of salmon at the same time. It was very common while we were there to see the salmon leap out of the water. Some would leap out and crash back into the water on their sides while others would leap upright and nose back in to the water like a dolphin. Catching this on the camera was a touch trickier. I have a lot of shots of splashes as the salmon has just reentered the water. I did get some on video though so you know I am not totally making this up!
Hiram M Chittenden was not only the man in charge of creating the Ballard Locks, he also was ahead of his time in understanding some of the ecological impact of what he was doing. The importance of the fish to the region and the disruption that the salmon would experience led him to the creation of a fish ladder. There is still one there now although it appears to be of slightly more modern construction.
There are ramps alongside parts of the ladder so you can look down and see the fish as they work their way up the steps. You can also look down and see a lot of them swimming around in the approach to the ladder itself. Meanwhile, there is a viewing gallery that has windows into the side of part of the ladder where you can watch the fish either resting in the quieter flows or forcing their way up to the next level. There were signs telling us which types of fish there might be but I have to admit they all looked alike to me.