News: May 20, 2009


2009 Alaska Forum on the Environment Report

Steller Sea Lion Diets

Marine Mammal Rescue Assistance Amendments of 2009

Entanglement of Steller Sea Lions in Marine Debris: Identifying Causes and Finding Solutions - NEW ADFG DVD

Comment Period on SW Alaska Sea Otter Critical Habitat Reopens & Hearing Scheduled



TASSC is pleased to welcome Gloria Frank as our new Southeast Region Commissioner! Gloria was appointed by Central Council Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska Executive Committee on January 30 of this year.

Gloria is from Hydaburg, Alaska on Prince of Wales Island and is actively involved with marine mammal subsistence and environmental conservation around Hydaburg and surrounding waters.

She is currently working for the Hydaburg Cooperative Association (HCA) in their Environmental office. Monitoring marine mammals is one of her duties at HCA and she has served as a sea otter tagger for many years. She was also trained in the Sea Otter Biosampling Program and coordinated and oversaw two years of skiff surveys of sea otters in the waters around her community. Welcome Gloria!

More Commission News

TASSC’s Annual and Regular Commission Meeting was held in Anchorage April 8 & 9, 2009 at the Alaska Village Initiatives Board Room.

Attendees heard a comprehensive report from TASSC Staff on Program results and upcoming events, and the Commission engaged in a good dialogue with Congressional staff on issues and priorities. Later in the meeting we heard reports from Kate Wynne - UAF Alaska Sea Grant Program, Helen Chythlook - Bristol Bay Marine Mammal Council, Monica Riedel - Alaska Native Harbor Seal Commission, Phil Zavadil - Tribal Government of St. Paul Ecosystem Conservation Office, Lisa Rotterman - National Marine Fisheries Service and our auditors Mikunda, Cottrell and Co.

Elections occurred this meeting and the Executive Committee remains the same:
Margaret Roberts - Chair Helen Chythlook - Secretary
Patrick Norman - Vice-Chair Patty Lekanoff-Gregory - Treasurer

Please contact us if you would like a copy of information shared at the meeting or if you have any questions.


2009 Alaska Forum on the Environment

Please see our Events Page.

Steller Sea Lion Diets

Spring is finally here after a long winter. We are eagerly looking forward to the bounty that spring and summer bring.

Sea lions, it turns out, may do the same thing. This issue we are pleased to highlight several studies on sea lion diet and/or distribution.

One study looks at the relationship between seasonal groupings of prey species and where sea lions go on a seasonal basis. Another study examines diet differences between male and female adult sea lions. We hope you find these as interesting as we do.

More details can be found below.

Do Male and Female Sea Lions Eat the Same Foods?

Knowing what sea lions are eating is important so that appropriate management decisions can be made. Sea lion diet studies nowdays often analyze bones and other hard parts in sea lion scats to determine which species of prey they are eating and their relative proportion in the diet.

Andrew Trites and Don Calkins (Trites and Calkins, 2008) studied sea lion scats collected from 1994 to 1999 from the Forester Island rookery area in Southeast Alaska. The aim of their study was to test if the diets of breeding female sea lions differed from bachelor bull sea lions.

A total of 470 scats were analyzed from 3 female dominated breeding sites, and 264 were analyzed from 1 bachelor male dominated haulout.

The scats were washed and hard parts were identified by species, with highly digested parts being excluded from their study (not included in the totals above). The prey species were grouped into 8 categories:

  • forage fish (herring, hooligan, sandlance, smelt)
  • salmon
  • gadids (pollock, Pacific cod, hake and rel species)
  • rockfish
  • flatfish (halibut, arrowtooth flounder, sole, rel species)
  • squid and octopus (cephalopods)
  • Atka mackeral and lingcod
  • other prey (skate, dogfish, sculpins, lamrey, other misc. species).
Statistical tests were used to determine diet diversity, consistency among rookeries and across the years.

They found that both male and female diets remained consistent across the years, and that female diets were quite consistent between the 3 breeding sites. No significant difference was seen in diet diversity between males and females, however their diets were significantly different from each other.

The authors stated that:
“Female diets were fairly evenly distributed between gadids, salmon and small oily fishes (forage fish) and contained lesser amounts of rockfish, flatfish, cephalopods and other fishes....Males consumed significantly fewer salmon and more pollock, flatfish and rockfish compared to females....also...larger pollock compared to females. These dietary differences may reflect a sex-specific difference in foraging areas or differences in hunting abilities related to the disparity in physical sizes of males and females.”

Their findings may apply to sea lions in other areas, however no similar studies have been done thus far. A copy of the journal article detailing their study can be found at:

Trites, A.W. and D.G. Calkins. 2008. Diets of mature males and female Steller sea lions (Eumetopia jubatus) differ and cannot be used as proxies for each other. Aquatic Mammals 34(1): 25-34.


Do Sea Lions Follow their Prey Around?

In Southeast Alaska, Jamie Womble (Womble et al. 2009) undertook studies from 2001-2004 to:
(1) classify seasonal distribution patterns of Steller sea lions, and
(2) determine to what extent the seasonal distribution of Steller sea lions is explained by seasonal concentrations of prey.

Using monthly aerial surveys from March 2001 to May 2004, these researchers counted sea lions of all age classes at 28 terrestrial sites. The surveyed sites were located in Icy Strait, Lynn Canal, Chatham Strait, Stephens Passage and Frederick Sound. The majority of sites were located in inside waters and 1 site on the outer coast (Graves Rock).

Statistical analysis revealed four distinct seasonal distributional patterns. The authors stated that:
“During December, 55% of the sea lions in the study area were found at…sites…located near over-wintering herring aggregations. During May, 56% of sea lions were found at…sites, near aggregations of spring-spawning forage fish. In July, 78% of sea lions were found at…sites, near summer migratory corridors of salmon. During September, 44% of sea lions were found at…sites, near autumn migratory corridors of salmon.”

Womble et al. concluded that:
“Seasonal attendance patterns of sea lions were commonly associated with the seasonal availability of prey species near terrestrial sites and reflected seasonal foraging patterns of Steller sea lions in Southeast Alaska. A reasonable annual foraging strategy for Steller sea lions is to forage on herring...aggregations in winter, spawning aggregations of forage fish in spring, salmon…in summer and autumn, and pollock…and Pacific hake…throughout the year. The seasonal use of haulouts by sea lions and ultimately haulout-specific foraging patterns of Steller sea lions depend in part upon seasonally available prey species in each region.”

If you would like a copy of the journal article, please contact our office and we can send it to you.

Womble, J.N., M.F. Sigler and M.F. Wilson. 2009. Linking seasonal distribution patterns with prey availability in a central-place forager the Steller sea lion. J Biogeorg. (36) 439-451.


Marine Mammal Rescue Assistance Amendments of 2009

H.R. 884, the Marine Mammal Rescue Assistance Amendments of 2009, passed the U.S. House of Representatives on March 2, 2009. The Bill was introduced by Congressman Don Young and builds upon protections in the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 (MMPA).

Marine mammal stranding is addressed by Title IV of the MMPA. National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) is the main federal agency dealing with marine mammal stranding. Under Title IV, NMFS has developed stranding response agreements with individuals and organizations to respond to live and/or dead stranded marine mammals. These individuals form a volunteer stranding network and these are in place throughout the United States. Other components authorized under Title IV include: marine mammal stranding responses and investigations, biomonitoring, tissue/serum banking, and analytical quality assurance.

The Marine Mammal Rescue Assistance Act of 2000 amended the MMPA, and the Prescott Grant Program was created. The Program provides grant funding to stranding network members for stranding related activities, including collecting data on live or dead stranded marine mammals, stranding response, and for rehabilitation and treatment of these animals.

H.R. 884 will expand the Prescott Grant Program to include work and rescue response related to entangled marine mammals and their rehabilitation. It also authorizes the development of entanglement response agreements.

When the bill was introduced, Congressman Don Young stated:

“...This bill will allow the Secretary of Commerce to provide grants to participants who assist in removing rope, nets or other materials from marine mammals while at sea....Support for this bill will further invest in the health of our oceans and its numerous marine resources.”

The bill has been transmitted to the U.S. Senate and has been referred to the Commerce Committee for further action.

Within Alaska, the National Marine Fisheries Service has an active standing network for marine mammals under its jurisdiction, including seals, whales, sea lions and fur seal. Stranding network members can be found throughout coastal Alaska and can be contacted to respond to a stranded marine mammal. TASSC is a member of this network. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service also has a stranding program for species under its jurisdiction: sea otter, walrus, polar bear.

If you are interested in more information on marine mammal stranding response, contact National Marine Fisheries Service or the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. You can also call our office and we can provide you with information or get you in contact with the appropriate person or agency.


Entanglement of Steller Sea Lions in Marine Debris: Identifying Causes and Finding Solutions - NEW ADFG DVD

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game, through a Prescott Stranding Grant, is working to address the problem of marine mammal entanglement. They have just released a DVD which talks about the different ways that sea lions and other marine mammals can become entangled in marine debris, and more importantly, ways to reduce this threat.

Marine debris that poses an entanglement hazard include anything that forms a loop - packing bands, large black and yellow rubber bands, rope, nets, monofilament line, even wind socks that find their way into the sea.

It also includes fishing gear that may be lost overboard or taken by these marine mammals while fishing (either sport or commercial) including fishing line, flashers, lures, hooks, longline gear, discarded gear and nets. Other marine debris can pose entanglement or health hazards, such as tires, windsocks, or just plain garbage that they might ingest.

Neck entanglements are one of the most common ways that sea lions can become entangled in marine debris. We can all work to reduce marine debris and entanglement, and as they say in the DVD:
“Loose the loop.”

For more information on stranding, marine mammal entanglement or if you are interested in a copy of the DVD, contact Lauri Jemison at ADFG via phone at 907-465-8171 or via email at


Comment Period on SW Alaska Sea Otter Critical Habitat Reopens & Hearing Scheduled

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has reopened their comment period on the proposed rule to designate critical habitat for the Southwest Alaska Sea Otter. The comment period is open through July 1, 2009.

Comments on the Proposed Rule can submitted at the federal rule making portal at (search for sea otter critical habitat).

They can also be submitted by hand or by mail to:

Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS-R7_ES-2008-0105
Division of Policy and Directives Management
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
4401 N. Fairfax Drive, Suite 222
Arlington, VA 22203.

For more information on the proposed rule, see the USFWS website at:

The notice of the reopened comment period can be found here.

TASSC's comments submitted during the original comment can be downloaded here.

The Service is developing a draft Economic Analysis (EA) on the impacts of designating Critical Habitat, and expect that a notice of availability for the draft EA will be published in the Federal Register in June. There will be a 30-day period in which to comment on the draft EA. The Service is also planning on having a 24-hour "hotline" in which people can call in and submit their comments for the record.

Lastly, the USFWS will be holding a Public Hearing on the Proposed Critical Habitat on June 18, 2009 in Anchorage, Alaska at the Z.J. Loussac Library. There will be an informational meeting from 7:00 PM to 7:30 PM. Verbal comments for the public record will be accepted from 7:30 PM to 9:30 PM, and there will be telephonic access, so individuals outside of Anchorage can call in to submit their comments.




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