Each summer, millions of fish return to Bristol Bay, and then swim on to the stream where they were born to spawn, and die. Exactly what compels them to return to the right spot is unknown. But scientists think that some hatchery-raised steelhead in Oregon might hold a clue.

Are salmon social creatures? That’s the question a pair of researchers are trying to figure out.

“50 some million fish last season migrated into Bristol Bay in the course of just a couple of weeks, and that’s a classic thing is that the fish all come at the same time, and it’s kind of curious to think, is there a potential social role in that?” said UAF Fisheries Professor Peter Westley. “They all come as a major wave, and is it because they are in these groups and they are sort of following the leader and using social dynamics to aid their migrations.”

By digging fake streams at an Oregon lab, Westley and colleague Andrew Berdahl are trying to figure why salmon choose the streams they do.

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