Counterintuitive active directional swimming behaviour by Atlantic salmon during seaward migration in the coastal zone

Matthew Newton, James Barry, Angus Lothian, Robert A. Main, Hannele Honkanen, Simon A. McKelvey, Paul Thompson, Ian Davies, Nick Brockie, Alastair Stephen, Rory O'Hara Murray, Ross Gardiner, Louise Campbell, Paul Stainer, Colin Adams* (Corresponding Author)

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)
3 Downloads (Pure)


Abstract Acoustic telemetry was used to track salmon smolts during river migration and into the open marine coastal zone. We compared migration direction and speed with particle tracking simulations to test the hypothesis that marine migration pathways are defined by active swimming current following behaviour. Habitat-specific survival rates, movement speeds, depths and directions in riverine, estuarine, and coastal habitats were also quantified. Salmon post-smolts did not disperse at random as they entered the unrestricted, coastal zone of the North sea; rather they chose a common migration pathway. This was not the most direct route to marine feeding grounds (ca. 44° N); north in the direction of the prevailing currents. Particle modelling showed that the actual post-smolt migration route was best predicted by active swimming at 1.2 body length.sec.−1 at a bearing of 70° from north but not by current following behaviour. Fish migrating in larger groups and earlier in the migration period had increased migration success. We conclude that: post-smolts have preferred migration routes that are not predicted by the shortest direction to their ultimate destination; they do not simply use the current advantage to migrate; and that they actively swim, occasionally directly against the current prevailing at the time.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1730–1743
Number of pages14
JournalICES Journal of Marine Science
Issue number5
Early online date3 May 2021
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2021

Bibliographical note

We thank the Cromarty Firth District Salmon Fishery Board for logistical support and three anonymous referees who improved an earlier draft of this paper. Funding for this work came from Scottish & Southern Energy Renewables. We are grateful for the skills and expertise of Bill Ruck at Moray First Marine along with the crews of Marine Scotland Science vessels who were integral to the successful deployment and recovery of equipment. Some receivers were also made available from the Ocean Tracking Network (OTN)

The data underlying this article will be shared on reasonable request to the corresponding author.


  • anadromy
  • marine dispersal
  • migration cues
  • salmonid


Dive into the research topics of 'Counterintuitive active directional swimming behaviour by Atlantic salmon during seaward migration in the coastal zone'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this