E-Fauna BC: Electronic Atlas of the Wildlife of British Columbia

Salvelinus malma (Walbaum, 1792)
Dolly Varden
Family: Salmonidae

© Aaron Baldwin  Email the photographer   (Photo ID #7465)

Click on the map to view a larger version.
Source: Distribution map provided by Don McPhail for E-Fauna BC
E-Fauna's interactive maps for fish are not yet available.

Species Information

Dorsal spines (total): 0; Dorsal soft rays (total): 10 - 16; Anal spines: 0; Anal soft rays: 10 - 15. Body elongate, somewhat rounded, greatest body depth below dorsal fin. Head rather long. Pelvic fins with free-tipped fleshy appendage above its insertion. Caudal emarginate (Ref. 27547). Color varies with size, locality and habitat. Sea-run adults with back, upper head, and upper sides dark blue, the sides silvery to white. In freshwater populations, the back and upper sides are olive green to brown, the sides a paler color but bright red in spawning fish and at all times in some areas of Alaska, the underside white to dusky. The dorsal surface are marked with yellow, orange or red spots, more numerous and those along the lateral line smaller, than in arctic char. Spawning males, especially of anadromous populations, turn red on the ventral surface and tip of snout. The lower jaw, operculum and parts of the head are black, the back and sides turn olive-brown. The spots become more vivid orange-red, the pectoral and anal fins red-black with a white leading edge, the snout thickens and the lower jaw turns up. Females change less.

Source: FishBase. Page, L.M. and B.M. Burr 1991 A field guide to freshwater fishes of North America north of Mexico. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston. 432 p

Identification and Subspecies Information

The forms of the Dolly Varden are present in BC:

1) stream-resident form
2) adfluvial and lacustrine form
3) sea-run populations

The BC Conservation Data Centre tracks the following lineages of this species:

1) Salvelinus malma - northern lineage (Dolly Varden northern lineage)
2) Salvelinus malma - southern lineage (Dolly Varden southern lineage)


Species Biology

Occurs in deep runs and pools of creeks and rivers; also in lakes and the sea (Ref. 5723). Lives in very clean mountain streams (Ref. 12218). Nerito-pelagic (Ref. 58426). Typically anadromous, but many populations are landlocked (Ref. 5723). Anadromous fish may spend 2-3 years at sea, evidently near shore, and migrate upstream to spawn (Ref. 5723). Young remain in streams for 3-4 years and feed on insects, leeches, snails, and salmon eggs (Ref. 1998) before entering brackish and salt water to feed on insects, fishes, and other invertebrates

Source: FishBase. Page, L.M. and B.M. Burr 1991 A field guide to freshwater fishes of North America north of Mexico. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston. 432 p


BC Distribution and Notes

The relationship between Dolly Varden and bull trout has a long and tangled history. In B.C., the Dolly Varden is a coastal species. It occurs in most rivers and streams along the length of the coast but is more common on the north coast than on the south coast. There are at least three life history forms — stream-resident, adfluvial and lacustrine, and sea-run populations. On Vancouver Island, sea-run Dolly Varden appear to stop at about Campbell River. Dolly Varden have crossed the Coast Mountains in at least three areas — the middle Fraser, upper Peace, and upper Liard systems. There are no bull trout on Vancouver Island and the Dolly Varden in some of the island’s large lakes have adopted a bull trout-like life history as deep-water piscivores. Where they come together, Dolly Varden and bull trout commonly hybridize; however, even in the face of persistent hybridization (and back-crossing) they maintain themselves as distinct ecological and genetic entities.

Source: Information provided by Don McPhail for E-Fauna BC.
Global Distribution

Arctic, Northwest to Northeast Pacific: drainages from Alaska to Puget Sound, Washington, USA; formerly in McCloud River drainages in California, USA. Northwest Pacific: Korea to Bering Sea (Ref. 2850).

Source: FishBase. Page, L.M. and B.M. Burr 1991 A field guide to freshwater fishes of North America north of Mexico. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston. 432 p

Status Information

Scientific NameOrigin StatusProvincial StatusBC List
(Red Blue List)
Salvelinus malmaNativeS4YellowNot Listed
Salvelinus malma - northern lineageNativeS4S5YellowNot Listed
Salvelinus malma - southern lineageNativeS4YellowNot Listed
BC Ministry of Environment: BC Species and Ecosystems Explorer--the authoritative source for conservation information in British Columbia.

Additional Range and Status Information Links

Additional Photo Sources

General References

Recommended citation: Author, Date. Page title. In Klinkenberg, Brian. (Editor) 2019. E-Fauna BC: Electronic Atlas of the Fauna of British Columbia [efauna.bc.ca]. Lab for Advanced Spatial Analysis, Department of Geography, University of British Columbia, Vancouver. [Accessed: 2020-07-05 5:38:31 PM]
Disclaimer: The information contained in an E-Fauna BC atlas pages is derived from expert sources as cited (with permission) in each section. This information is scientifically based.  E-Fauna BC also acts as a portal to other sites via deep links.  As always, users should refer to the original sources for complete information.  E-Fauna BC is not responsible for the accuracy or completeness of the original information.

© E-Fauna BC: An initiative of the Spatial Data Lab, Department of Geography, UBC