Saffron cod, Eleginus gracilis.

Saffron Cod, Eleginus gracilis

After hatching, young saffron cod associate themselves with jellyfish for two to three months. Why they do this is still a mystery, but it is likely for protection. Once fully grown, they have little need for this protection since adults reach lengths of 63 cm and are only eaten by seals.

A mature saffron cod (Eleginus gracilis) captured at Wood Bay, near the Anderson River estuary, NWT. Photo: Jim Johnson.

This species is distinguished from other cods by its upper projecting jaw, a shortened caudal fin, and a chin barbel that is the same length as the diameter of its eye. Its dorsal fin is split into three sections, the first of which is the shortest. The second and third are pyramidal in shape and approximately equal in size. The anal fin is separated into two sections, both of which are pyramidal and equal in size. The pelvic fins are reduced and located below the head, while streamlined pectoral fins are located behind the gill slit. Its dorsal surface is a dark olive, while its flanks are silvery, fading through yellow to a silvery-white belly.

This species inhabits the Western Arctic from Cambridge Bay to the Beaufort Sea. It also occurs in the Bering Sea and as far as North Korea. It prefers the upper levels of the ocean, occurring from the surface down to a depth of no more than 75 m.

During the winter spawning season, this species makes an inshore migration under the coastal sea ice. Mating takes place over sand or gravel bottoms where there is a tidal influence. Single females scatter up to 210,000 non-sticky eggs over the bottom, which mature over the winter and hatch in the spring. Once they are old enough to feed on their own, young saffron cod consume a variety of prey, including crustaceans, worms, and fish. Their life span is at least eleven years and sexual maturity is reached at two to three years of age.