Their skin is pallid gray, covered with mold, and beginning to fall off. Their heads are sometimes bumpy and squishy. They may be missing an eye or two. Yes, zombie salmon are real — sort of. Unlike movie zombies, they’re still alive, barely, and they don’t eat anyone’s brains. Zombie salmon are fish that have returned to their freshwater spawning grounds but are still in the twilight zone between life and death.
They might be creepy and gross, but zombie salmon help feed the plants and animals around them as they decay.
When the life cycle is over
After juvenile salmon leave their natal lakes and streams for a life at sea, their magnetic sense of direction leads them back. These adults swim upstream to reproduce, a process called spawning. Once they have released and fertilized their eggs, it only takes a few weeks for those salmon to die.
During those weeks, those fish become shadows of their former selves. Their bodies begin to shut down and actually rot. Hearts, arteries, and muscles fall apart. Digestive organs shrivel up. The skin loses its bright, colorful hues.
Can you eat a zombie salmon?
If you eat a zombie salmon, you won’t turn into a zombie yourself. You just might not find it very tasty. You know that fat that makes salmon so delicious? It was burned as energy during the fish’s long journey home.
Also, there’s a fine line between a zombie salmon and a dead salmon, which can make you sick. Dead fish will have a higher amount of dangerous bacteria than those still alive with healthy immune systems.
What good are zombie salmon?
The best thing about zombie salmon is that they very quickly become dead salmon. Those corpses feed birds, which especially like to feast on the eyeballs. Flies and other insects lay their eggs in the rotting carcasses – the same flies that will feed the baby salmon that will hatch from eggs in nearby gravel beds. As they continue to decay, dead salmon washed up on shorelines and river banks fertilize trees and other plants.