b Kintama Research Services, Ltd ., 10-1850 Northfield Road, Nanaimo , British Columbia V9S 3B3 , Canada.
In 2011, unusually high flows caused total dissolved gas (TDG) levels in the Columbia River, USA, to escalate well above the 120% regulatory limit that was imposed to prevent harmful impacts to aquatic organisms. After observing gas bubble trauma (GBT) in dead yearling Chinook Salmon Oncorhynchus tshawytscha (smolts) held in tanks, we compared estimated survival rates of acoustic-tagged in-river-migrating (IR) and transported (TR) smolts that were released below Bonneville Dam prior to and during the period of elevated TDG (>120%). The log odds of estimated daily survival in the lower river and plume was significantly lower for IR smolts that were released during elevated TDG (maximum possible exposure = 134%) than for IR smolts released when TDG was less than 120%. The TR smolts that were released 10-13 km below Bonneville Dam during elevated TDG had lower maximum possible exposure levels (126% TDG), and the log odds of estimated daily survival in the lower river and plume did not differ from that of TR smolts released when TDG was less than 120%. Direct mortality due to GBT is probably reduced in natural settings relative to laboratory experiments because smolts can move to deeper water, where pressure keeps gasses in solution, and can migrate downstream of the spillway, where TDG levels decrease as the river returns to equilibrium with the atmosphere. However, initially nonlethal GBT may reduce survival rates by increasing smolt susceptibility to predation and infection. Although our findings are limited by the observational nature of the study, our analysis is the first direct assessment of gas supersaturation's potential influence on survival of free-ranging smolts in the river and coastal ocean below a large dam. Experiments using simultaneous releases of control and gas-exposed groups are warranted and should consider the possibility that the chronic effects of TDG exposure on survival are important and persist into the early marine period. Received October 5, 2015; accepted August 18, 2016 Published online October 24, 2016.