Home > Exhibits > Southern California Steelhead Story

Local endangered fish species

Southern California Steelhead Story

Southern California Steelhead Story is a new outdoor exhibit adjacent to Our Watersheds: Pathway to the Pacific.

This immersive exhibit communicates the history of local waterways and tells the story of the Southern California steelhead fish species and its importance in the local ecosystem.

Southern California steelhead (Oncorhynchus mykiss), a member of the salmon family, reproduces in Southern California streams and has historically traveled up and down the Los Angeles, San Gabriel, and other local rivers to spawn and return to the ocean. In fact, at one time, the San Gabriel River was known as one of the best steelhead fishing rivers in the state. After coming close to extinction, in 1997 the Southern California steelhead was listed as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act by the National Marine Fisheries Service.

The Aquarium’s steelhead exhibit transports visitors along a mountain path, allowing them to view these fish in three areas, representing the species’ journey from freshwater to brackish water, and finally to the ocean. Through this exhibit, the Aquarium hopes to reveal the secrets of a little-known fish that lives amongst us in our urban environment and inspire conservation of this unique animal.

The steelhead is an indicator species—its survival relies upon a healthy ecosystem. Over the years they have faced many threats such as pollution, drought, and physical barriers, including dams and concrete channels, which have prevented them from traveling upstream. The exhibit will document their resilience in the face of these challenges, forecast the species’ ability to adapt to future changes to its habitat, and offer what we can do to help.

Steelhead are born as trout in freshwater rivers and streams. For reasons unknown, some choose to migrate to the Pacific Ocean, becoming steelhead, while others remain as resident rainbow trout. When a trout changes into a steelhead, it undergoes physical changes that allow it to move from fresh to salt water. When it is time to reproduce, these steelhead migrate back into freshwater to spawn.

Lead sponsors for the Southern California Steelhead Story exhibit include the Annenberg Foundation, Long Beach City Council, and The Ahmanson Foundation, with additional support provided by the NOAA Fisheries, the Patricia Duque Byrne Charitable Foundation, the Los Angeles Rod and Reel Club Foundation, the Southwest Council International Federation of Fly Fishers, and other donors.