Pacific herring (South Sound marine life)

Pacific herring (clupea pallasi)

This is what dinner looks like for a variety of marine mammals, birds, fish and invertebrates.

Vast schools of this species, as well as several other similar, plankton-eating fish, form the second link on the food chain that runs from plankton to whales.

For example, in Alaska, humpback whales spend the summer eating vast quantities of herring as they put on fat so they survive their winter vacation in Hawaii.

Herring can be differentiated from other similar species by one or more of the following: their lack of side spots, the corner of the mouth is below the eye, and there are no striations on the gill covers.

Probably in its first year, this 5-inch individual can grow up to 13 inches when it reaches maturity in three to four years. They can live for up to nine years.

They feed on plankton that they strain from the water with specialized modifications to their gills. If you see a school, look for the flashing silver on their heads caused by flaring of the gill covers when their mouths open to filter water.

Herring start life as a sticky egg attached to eelgrass or seaweed in early spring. Females can lay up to 125,000 eggs. Eggs are harvested in Japan and on the West Coast as human food. Adults are harvested for food, as well as bait.

Pacific herring range from Korea north to Alaska and south to Baja, however some experts feel that they are the same species as the Atlantic herring. They are found in offshore waters but also in nearshore waters especially during the late winter spawning season. During that period, large schools can be found in Dana Pass and other open areas. Predators attack from below and above, causing the herring to come together in a tight ball for protection. Herring balls can be spotted from a great distance because of swirling, diving gulls.

David Jamison/for The Olympian