Why do salmon change color and die after they spawn?

Salmon change color to attract a spawning mate. Pacific salmon use all their energy for returning to their home stream, for making eggs, and digging the nest. Most of them stop eating when they return to freshwater and have no energy left for a return trip to the ocean after spawning. After they die, other animals eat them (but people don't) or they decompose, adding nutrients to the stream. Unlike Pacific salmon, Atlantic salmon do not die after spawning, so adults can repeat the spawning cycle for several years.

Learn more: Questions and Answers about Salmon 

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Animated image of a Sockeye Salmon swimming
November 30, 2000

Sockeye Salmon

Animated GIF of a Sockeye Salmon swimming in the water. This image comes from a video that depicts adult Sockeye Salmon in Drano Lake, WA on July 15th and 16th 2015.