Posted on January 20, 2023 under Natural History
Dolly or Char? What is that fish?

In Arctic Alaska we have two fish species that look very similar, Arctic Char (Salvelinus alpinus) and Dolly Varden (Salvelinus malma). To add to the confusion (and I’m as guilty as anyone), Dolly Varden are commonly referred to as char.  If that wasn’t bad enough, char is a large group of fish that includes Arctic Char, Dolly Varden, and several trout. It is no wonder there is confusion.

Fortunately habitat is a reliable clue as to the identity of the fish. In Arctic Alaska, any fish in the genus Salvelinus (these are basically our only fish that look like trout) that you find in a river is a Dolly Varden. The similar fish that spends it entire life in a lake is an Arctic Char. You can learn more about these beautiful fish here.

And a last thing about Dolly Varden, is that they spend part of their lives in the Arctic Ocean eating krill, but cannot spend the winter there. The Arctic Ocean is below freezing in the winter and Dollys would literally freeze. So the entire population of Dolly Varden in Arctic Alaska migrate up our spring fed rivers for the winter.