Tag Archives: Pinniped

Seals and sea lions may be undercutting chinook and orca populations

Seals and sea lions can no longer be ignored in the effort to recover our threatened Puget Sound chinook salmon or our endangered killer whales.

A new study shows that seals and sea lions are eating about 1.4 million pounds of Puget Sound chinook each year — about nine times more than they were eating in 1970, according to the report. Please read the story I wrote for the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound, also published in an abridged version in the Kitsap Sun.

Harbor seals rest on the breakwater at Poulsbo Marina. // Photo: Meegan Reid, Kitsap Sun

Seals and sea lions in Puget Sound get the first chance to catch the chinook as they leave the streams and head out to the ocean. Since they are eaten at a very young age, these small chinook, called “smolts,” never grow into adults; they never become available for killer whales or humans.

Based on rough estimates, as many as one in five of these young fish are getting eaten on their way out of Puget Sound. If they were to survive the seals and sea lions and one factors in the remaining mortality rate, these fish could translate into an average of 162,000 adult chinook each year. That’s twice the number eaten by killer whales and roughly six times as many as caught in Puget Sound by tribal, commercial and recreational fishers combined, according to the study.

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Amusing Monday: Humoring a friendly leopard seal

In today’s featured video, National Geographic photographer Paul Nicklen calmly describes his underwater encounter with a massive leopard seal in the Antarctic.

I guess Nicklen was not so calm at the time, as he tells in his narration, but he stayed in place and kept shooting as the leopard seal made moves toward him that could be interpreted in various ways. Nicklen, who has plenty of experience around wild animals, said the seal acted aggressive at first but later tried to make a connection, perhaps by offering the diver a penguin to eat.

Nicklen, who has been working in the polar regions for 17 years, had a “unique childhood among the Intuit in Canada’s Arctic,” according to his bio. He has shot some amazing and exciting scenes, and I’m an admirer of his images of the spirit bear, which is another unique story. See the spirit bear photos on his webpage, and check out the National Geographic story by Bainbridge Island writer Bruce Barcott. Nicklen lives on Vancouver Island.

As for leopard seals, they are pretty amazing creatures, though not always amusing. Take a look at this series of videos by BBC Nature. You can also swim with a leopard seal via a “crittercam” in this National Geographic video, which features the work of biologist Tracey Rogers. (The crittercam part starts about halfway through.)

Another crittercam captures the movements of an Australian sea lion as it hunts for and eventually eats an octopus. The National Geographic footage is from a project designed to figure out what the sea lions are eating. Australian sea lions were once hunted to near-extinction but are now protected by the Australian government.