Physiological telemetry and proximate tissue analyses were used to assess energy expended by chum salmon Oncorhynchus keta on various behaviours during spawning in Kanaka Creek, British Columbia, Canada, and results were compared with published data on Fraser River sockeye salmon Oncorhynchus nerka, the only other species for which both types of measurements have been taken. Chum salmon arrived at the spawning grounds with body energy densities of 4·84 MJ kg−1 in males and 4·62 MJ kg−1 in females, lower than most sockeye salmon populations, and died with energy densities of c. 4 MJ kg−1, similar to that observed in sockeye salmon and other salmonids. Moisture levels generally increased in body tissues over the spawning life, particularly in female gonads, and lipid levels decreased. Declines in protein observed over the spawning life of other Pacific salmon Oncorhynchus sp. were less evident in Kanaka Creek chum salmon. Holding behaviour constituted the dominant component of the activity schedule and energy budget of both sexes. After holding, the most expensive behaviours were nest digging in females and aggressive displays in males. Dominant males expended the most energy on behaviours each day, as indexed by oxygen consumption (3600 mgO2 kg−1), while satellite males expended nearly as much (3504 mgO2 kg−1) but females expended considerably less (2327 mgO2 kg−1). Kanaka chum salmon engaged more frequently in energetically expensive reproductive behaviours than Stuart River sockeye salmon.