The hooligan are home! This small fish, properly a smelt, and properly identified as a eulachon (Thaleichthys pacificus), migrates to the waters of Alaska’s fjords and inlets every spring. The other common name of “candlefish” derives from it being so fat during spawning, with up to 15% of total body weight in fat, that if caught, dried, and strung on a wick, it can be burned as a candle. This is the name most often used by early explorers. The name eulachon is from the Chinookan language, which is identified by Wikipedia as a group of indigenous people along the Columbia River in Washington and Oregon. Here in Haines, the hooligan run (among other inlets and rivers) in the Chilkoot and Chilkat Rivers.
Here in the Haines area, the Tlingit people have traditionally harvested this run annually, and made eulachon an important part of their diet, as well as a valuable trade item with peoples whose territories did not include spawning rivers. The species was caught using traps, rakes, and nets. The harvest continues today, with other residents taking part in the exploitation of the large runs.
One becomes aware of a change by the number of gulls who start becoming quite frenzied, numerous and concentrated. (visit my mockumentary “Gulls Gone Wild” at: https://timenspace.smugmug.com/Collections/Blogs/Videos/Gulls-Gone-Wild/ Along with the gulls come armadas of sea lions. Orca’s will arrive on the tails of the sea lions. Yesterday I saw river otters darting through the river, like small fluvial Nessie’s.
Among other new arrivals, we are seeing Surf Scoters (who deserve their own chapter post, and I promise one to come along) and Barrow’s Goldeneyes.
The experience of Alaska in the spring is one of abundance and vibrancy. The snow pulls back leaving in its wake the devastation of its cold heart. Slowly, religiously, life returns with the appearance of our finned and feathered kin. Shoots and buds follow along, casting color and life across a briefly bleak landscape. It has been my observation through the years that this rejuvenation is predictably heralded by the hooligan. I will be spending the next few nights standing on my deck in the evening light listening to the symphony of abundance as gulls cry and sea lions bark and nature continues to provide.
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