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Salmon swimming in the ocean.Salmon, as a whole, are one of the best foods out there, but do you want to know more about them besides just “good for you?”

In this article, we’re going to talk about the 6 types of North American salmon and a few interesting things about all species of salmon.

First, what do they all have in common?

  1. They’re all predators.
  2. They prefer cold water.
  3. Spend most of their lives at sea.
  4. Make a pilgrimage to fresh water to spawn.
  5. Thrive in both fresh and salt water.
  6. Transform when they go upstream to spawn. All salmon change color, and sometimes even the shape of their bodies when it’s mating time.

Of the 6 types of North American salmon, 5 live in the Pacific while only one lives in the Atlantic. The sad part of this story is that the only Atlantic salmon was fished almost to extinction in the wild. Nowadays all Atlantic salmon come from salmon farms.

Alright. Now let’s take a closer look at the individual species of salmon.

Chinook / King Salmon

Latin name: Oncorhynchus tschawytscha.

These are the biggest of the salmon species. They can get as long as 5 feet and weight as much as 100 pounds. That’s where they get their nickname – the king salmon – from.

Chinook salmon are also the most widespread salmon in North America ranging everywhere from the deep Pacific, down to southern California and then all the way up to Alaska.

Their meat is anywhere from white to a deep red color. It’s often considered the best-tasting salmon fish. These salmon have an unusually high fat content.

When they go upstream to spawn, their tales can turn either maroon or olive brown. Their heads and mouths also grow longer.

Coho / Hooknose / Silver Salmon

Latin name: Oncorhynchus kisutch.

While salmon are generally silver when they’re living in the ocean (and change once they move more in-land), the coho, or silver salmon is especially silver. As you might guess.

Their flesh is bright red. It’s similar to the Chinook salmon in flavor but a little more delicate.

When they go upstream to spawn, they turn bright red with a dark head and tail. One of their nicknames, hooknose, comes from the fact that males often grow a long, hooked nose when they move to fresh water.

Sockeye / Red Salmon

Latin name: Oncorhynchus nerka.

The sockeye is another favorite salmon. Their flesh is bright red-orange. The taste is deep and rich.

This is the salmon that’s most preferred in fancy restaurants around the world. They also happen to be a favorite of grizzly bears.

While many salmon have been introduced to all 5 Great Lakes, you won’t find the Sockeye salmon in Lake Superior, but you can find them in other landlocked lakes in the US and Canada.

When they go upstream to spawn, they turn bright red with a green head and tail. The males also grow a hump on their backs. This hump isn’t as pronounced as it is in Pink salmon, though.

Pink / Humpback Salmon

Latin name: Oncorhynchus gorbusha.

This fish has light colored flesh. It isn’t as high in fats as most the other salmon species. This salmon, along with the Chum, is usually what you find canned.

Pink salmon are the most common Pacific salmon. They’re also the smallest. Pink salmon are usually just 18 inches long. Compare that to the King, or Chinook salmon, which clocks in at 5 feet!

When they go upstream to spawn, they grow a distinctive hump on their backs, hence the nickname. Their coloring isn’t as dramatic as many other spawning salmon. They’re often a dull grey with white bellies.

Chum / Silverbite / Keta / Dog Salmon

Latin name: Oncorhynchus keta.

You’ll notice that this salmon comes with a lot of nicknames, not the least of which is “dog salmon.” This nickname comes from the unusually large teeth they have.

Their flesh is usually pale or medium colored. Like the Pink salmon, the Chum Salmon is not particularly high in fats. Also like the Pink salmon, they’re often canned.

When they go upstream to spawn, they become incredibly distinctive. They turn green with deep purple stripes.

Atlantic Salmon / Salmo Salar

Latin name: Salmo salar.

This little guy is lonely. It’s the only salmon in the Atlantic ocean. The rest all live a continent away.

Because the Atlantic salmon was fished basically into extinction, all commercially available Atlantic salmon comes from a farm. The sustainability of these farms gets better and better as time goes on.

These guys are big. They’re almost as big as the Chinook salmon.

They’re the only salmon that naturally occurs in the Great Lakes, but again, wild salmon are few and far between.

When they go upstream to spawn, they trun a dark bronzish brown.