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More Alaska Names and the True Life of Fred
by Ned Rozell


August 25, 2003
Monday - 12:30 am

Enough bears already. Because more than 115 geographic features in Alaska have "Bear" in their names, the U.S. Board on Geographic Names once renamed the former Bear Cove on the Alaska Peninsula "Ursus Cove," after the Latin name for bear.

Donald J. Orth detailed the unbearable frequency of creeks, rivers, lakes and mountains with bear names in Alaska in the Dictionary of Alaska Place Names, with which I have become engrossed for the past few weeks. Other overused animal names in Alaska include Moose, for at least 80 features; Beaver, with 64 geographic namesakes; and Sheep, with 56.

Most of these names made their way onto Alaska maps because locals were using them when explorers mapped the state. In the 1980s, the U.S. Board on Geographic Names discouraged duplicate naming of features in the same state. This was about 80 years after homesick prospectors and other Alaskans named 27 California creeks, 16 Montana creeks, 15 Colorado creeks, nine Washington creeks, eight Texas creeks, seven Idaho creeks, six Ohio creeks, six Virginia creeks, five New York creeks, five Nevada creeks, four Oregon creeks, four Michigan creeks, three Utah, Arizona, Minnesota, Iowa and Kentucky creeks, and two Vermont, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Kansas creeks.

In a recent column about the life of "Fred" the red salmon, I assumed that a Copper River/Gulkana River red salmon would have a life cycle similar to other red salmon, and I was wrong. Ken Roberson, a fishery consultant and Copper River red salmon researcher for more than 20 years, made the following corrections to my column about "Fred the red."

  • Few sockeyes spawn below Paxson Lake in the Gulkana River system. Most salmon spawn above Paxson Lake and migrate downstream.
  • Red salmon in the Copper River system hatch into alevins as early as February, and will absorb their sac of nutrients by April or May. Most red salmon will spend only one year as 1-inch long alevins in Paxson Lake, and they leave the lake in late spring as the surface ice melts. When they leave the lake as smolts, red salmon weigh about one-quarter ounce.
  • "Fred" would not stay within 30 miles of the Alaska coast during the ocean part of his life cycle. Roberson explained: "As an open ocean feeder, he may reach 300-500 miles from any coast, migrate most of the length of the Aleutian Chain and pass by Icy Straits near Sitka/Juneau or return via nearly every possible compass point in the Gulf of Alaska on his route back to the Copper River to spawn."
  • Fred's mother would have produced about 3,800 eggs, and Fred would have been approximately one of two of those eggs that return to the spawning grounds as adults. Two of his brethren would have been harvested along the way. "The net result is that about one-tenth of one percent survive to return to the Copper River and the two that reach the spawning grounds keep the cycle going," Roberson wrote.


Related Article:

The Life and Times of Fred the Red Salmon


Source of story & photograph:

This column is provided as a public service by the Geophysical Institute, University of Alaska Fairbanks, in cooperation with the UAF research community.

Ned Rozell is a science writer at the institute. E:mail:


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