Whole body concentrations of cortisol were determined via radioimmunoassay in chinook salmon, Onchorynchus tshawytscha, during early development in both stressed and non-stressed fish to determine when the corticosteroidogenic stress response first appeared. Progeny from both pooled and individual females were examined to determine if differences existed in offspring from different females. Levels of cortisol were low in eyed eggs, increased at hatch, decreased 2 weeks later and then remained constant thereafter. Differences in cortisol between stressed and control fish were found 1 week after hatch and persisted for the remainder of the study. The magnitude of the stress response, or relative amount of cortisol produced, generally increased from the time when it was first detected, but a decrease in the ability to elicit cortisol was seen 4 weeks after hatching. Cortisol content of separate progeny from two individual females showed a similar pattern to that seen in pooled eggs. Our results indicate that chinook salmon are capable of producing cortisol following a stressful event approximately 1 week after the time of hatching. The decrease in endogenous cortisol content seen 2 weeks after hatching, and the decrease in the magnitude of the stress response seen 4 weeks after hatching may be comparable to developmental events documented in mammals where corticosteroid synthesis is inhibited to neutralize possible detrimental effects of these hormones during critical periods of development.