The Ocean Ecology of Pacific Salmon and Trout

Chapter 8: Ocean Ecology of Anadromous Coastal Cutthroat Trout

William G. Pearcy, Richard D. Brodeur, Stewart M. McKinnell, and James P. Losee


Although the Cutthroat Trout (Oncorhynchus clarkii Richardson, 1836) was likely known to the earliest European explorers of western North America, first written notice of it occurred only on June 13, 1805 when Meriwether Lewis encountered it near Great Falls, Montana. What is now regarded as the Coastal Cutthroat Trout is one of several subspecies of a taxonomic complex with considerable diversity (Behnke 1992, 1997, 1988). In 1805, Lewis, and his co-leader William Clark, described the fish as being similar to other trout in form but having long sharp teeth on the tongue and a dash of red on each of the ventral sides (Trotter and Bisson 1988).

That the species bears Clark’s name rather than Lewis’s can be traced to Sir John Richardson, who named the species Clark’s salmon, Salmo clarkii (Richardson 1836) from two specimens of what was probably Coastal Cutthroat Trout from Dr. Meredith Gairdner who was employed by the Hudson Bay Company on the Columbia River. Richardson named the species based upon Clark’s mentioning a dark variety of salmon-trout in his journal on June 19, 1806.

Richardson’s nomenclature was sustained through the middle of the 19th century, despite an attempt at taxonomic reorganization by Günther (1866) at the British Museum. Günther considered S. clarkii to be the same species as S. purpuratus (Pallas 1831) which is now known to be Georg Steller’s S. mykiss (Pallas 1831). The scientific name S. clarkii was retained with a variety of common names through the late 1800s, even briefly with the varietal name S. clarkii clarkii (Jordan 1885). When the common name, Cutthroat Trout, did finally appear, it was juxtaposed (erroneously) with the scientific name S. mykiss (Jordan and Starks 1895; Jordan and Evermann 1896) and the species that is now the Cutthroat Trout was considered by Jordan and Evermann (1896) to be a subspecies of S. mykiss (Salmo mykiss clarki), and was given the common name of Columbia River Trout.