Climate change may wipe out Chinook salmon

While the wildlife of B.C. faces many uncertainties due to the changing global climate, new research shows that the future of the Chinook salmon, also known as the king salmon, might be an especially grim one.

Along with several members of an international research team, UBC Zoologist Anthony Farrell found that there is a 98 per cent chance that B.C.'s population of Chinook salmon could suffer irreparable losses by the year 2100.

In their study, researchers investigated whether the Chinook salmon could adjust to changing temperatures and their limits to these temperatures, based on their heartbeat.

While human beings are able to regulate their body temperatures around 37 degrees Celsius, the body temperatures of invertebrate animals like amphibians and fish are determined by their environment, which is increasingly getting warmer.

According to Farrell, while salmon could adjust their physiology and even perform better in certain warmer temperatures, the Chinook salmon’s heartbeat becomes irregular and fails to function at 24.5 degrees Celsius.

“You get to a certain temperature, and then at that temperature, you go downhill,” said Farrell. “It’s a bit like falling over, you’ve got this trajectory of global climate warming [and] those couple of degrees [are] going to make all the difference.”

As the temperature of the water that is home to the Chinook salmon continues to increase, it is possible that their former home may become unliveable in the next 85 years.

"It’s that kind of precipitous decline," said Farrell. "Once you reach this threshold temperature, things just end in a bad way."

According to Farrell, the prospects of reversing this alarming trend look bleak. While the most obvious solution would be to put a complete stop to global warming, this type of change seems unlikely. The study suggests smaller, more realistic steps such as making habitats cooler and practicing aquaculture, where humans cultivate the salmon themselves.

“[Global warming] is very easy to ignore, but I think ignoring it is one’s peril,” said Farrell.