News: December 15, 2010

President's Message

Upcoming Workshop/Training on Understanding the Federal Administrative Process

Monitoring Steller Sea Lions at Remote Sites in the Bering Sea: Prepared by Gay Sheffield and Laurie Jemison, ADF&G

Yakutat Steller Sea Lion Surveys

Steller Sea Lion Stranding Summary for Southeast Alaska, 2009 - 2010, Unknown Cause of Death Cases: Prepared by Kaili Jackson, Aleria Jensen and Kate Savage, NMFS Protected Resources Division, August 25, 2010

New iPhone App for Reporting Stranding Marine Mammals

President's Message

Cama'i!

I hope that everyone has had a wonderful and productive summer. As we move into the holiday season, I want to share with you how proud I am to see our customary and traditional ways being passed down to our younger generations. It is so important to our Alaska Native cultures. This extends to ensuring that current policies and regulations are not inadvertently harming or making it more difficult for our traditions to continue. It is up to us now to ensure that our children and grandchildren are able to enjoy, experience and participate in the same cultural practices that are so important to who we are.

I want to thank everyone who has supported and worked with TASSC over the many years. Our member tribes, hunters and artisans are our foundation. I want to encourage you to contact your regional Commissioners or the office if you have any questions, concerns or comments related to marine mammal usage or subsistence.

We look forward to hearing from you and from the Commission, we wish you a wonderful holiday season!
Quyanaasinaq!
Margaret Roberts

Upcoming Workshop/Training on Understanding the Federal Administrative Process

Through our agreement with the National Marine Fisheries Service, TASSC is working with attorney John Sky Starkey on a one-day training, offered free to anyone who wishes to attend.

The workshop, "Understanding and Working Through the Federal Administrative Process for Alaska Native Tribes and Marine Mammal Co-management Groups" is intended to provide attendees with a solid foundation and understanding of the federal administrative rule-making process, variations with the different laws and policies that affect us (such
as MMPA, ESA, NEPA, tribal consultation and executive orders, etc).

We will also look at how the process intersects with co-management and how it can be improved to allow greater involvement from Alaska Native subsistence organizations and hunters. The one-day workshop will be held in Anchorage on February 11, 2011. We hope that you will join us.

Contact us for more information or to sign up to attend!

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Monitoring Steller Sea Lions at Remote Sites in the Bering Sea: Prepared by Gay Sheffield & Laurie Jemison, ADF&G

In 2009, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game began an exciting new project to survey Steller sea lions at various sites in the Bering Sea. Four remote sites are being surveyed: Cape Newenham and Round Island (northern Bristol Bay), Amak Island (southern Bristol Bay), and Sivuonok near Gambell on Saint Lawrence Island (a cooperative effort with permission from the Gambell IRA Tribal Council and Sivuqaq Native Corporation).

Surveys during this 3-year project will include counts, photographs of branded animals, and documentation of sea lions entangled in marine debris.

Photo-documentation of branded animals will help us estimate age-specific survival and dispersal rates, and describe distribution patterns. Documentation of sea lions entangled in marine debris will help us better understand the frequency of this problem and identify entangling materials.

Of particular interest at Saint Lawrence Island is the origin of the animals hauling out: whether these sea lions were born in Russia or Alaska. Fecal samples collected at St. Lawrence Island will help identify important prey species in that region.

Since the project began, surveys of these sites have documented over 100 animals at St. Lawrence Island (with local reports of over 1,000), approximately 150 sea lions at Cape Newenham and up to 275 sea lions at Round Island. Amak Island counts were scheduled to begin in 2010. For more information on this project, contact Gay Sheffield or Lauri Jemison with the ADF&G.

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Yakutat Steller Sea Lion Surveys

Sea lions have been observed hauling out in Dry Bay during the spring time for a number of years, yet there were no systematic counts to document how the numbers of sea lions changed over time and over the years.

In 2000, the Yakutat Ranger District of the U.S. Forest Service began late winter-springtime aerial surveys of the Alsek and Awke river mouths in Dry Bay. These surveys continued on a yearly basis through 2005. In 2006 and 2007, surveys were not conducted and limited surveys were conducted in 2008. In 2010, partnering with the ADF&G and the Yakutat Salmon Board, and through funding from TASSC, the U.S. Forest Service were able to conduct full surveys of the area again. In addition, the U.S. Forest Service recently received a grant from the USFWS OSM focused on euchalon and were able to leverage available resources to extend the surveys.

At the Awke River, sea lions are generally found at their highest numbers in February and depart the area by the end of March. At the Alsek, sea lion numbers peak in March/April, and they generally depart the area by May. In 2010, as weather allowed, regular surveys were flown from early February through early May to cover the peaks at both sites. Two surveys were flown of the Awke, with the peak occurring on March 24, and 394 sea lions were observed. At the Alsek, the peak was on March 15, and over 3,000 sea lions were counted hauling out there. This was the highest number of sea lions ever documented hauling out there, and there is an overall increase in sea lions hauling out at the sites since the surveys began in 2000 (Richards and Oehlers, 2010).

Local Yakutat residents were able to participate on some of the surveys and see the sheer number of sea lions at these sites.

In the 2008 rangewide aerial survey by the National Marine Fisheries Service, where they survey known haulouts and rookeries, more sea lions than expected were counted in Southcentral Alaska around Prince William Sound area, and less than expected in Southeast Alaska. The 2008 survey was conducted almost one month earlier than past surveys. They hypothesized that due to the survey's timing in 2008, it documented animals from the Southeast population that were moving into PWS seasonally but would later return to their haulouts and rookeries in Southeast Alaska. The 2009 survey supported their hypothesis.

The surveys in Yakutat have shown an increasing number of sea lions hauling out at these two sites. These sites are located at the edge of the Southeast population and these haulouts would seem to act as a natural stopping point for animals traveling between Southeast and Prince William Sound. The U.S. Forest Service has land adjacent to these areas, thus it is important to continue monitoring these areas for sound management and to avoid potential conflicts. For more information, contact Susan Oehlers, U.S. Forest Service, at (907) 784-3359.


Resources:
Richards, W. and Oehlers, S. 2010. Seasonal abundance of Steller sea lions at the Akwe and Alsek River Haulouts, Alaska , 2010: Draft Report. USDA Forest Service, Tongass National Forest, Yakutat Ranger District. Yakutat, Alaska.

NMFS 2009 Aerial Survey Results & Update on the Western Population: http://www.afsc.noaa.gov/nmml/PDF/
SSL-Survey-09-memo-11-30-09.pdf

NMFS 2008 Aerial Survey Results: http://www.afsc.noaa.gov/nmml/pdf/SSLNon-Pups2008memo.pdf

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Steller Sea Lion Stranding Summary for Southeast Alaska, 2009 - 2010, Unknown Cause of Death Cases: Prepared by Kaili Jackson, Aleria Jensen and Kate Savage, NMFS Protected Resources Division, August 25, 2010

The following cases reported to the National Marine Fisheries Service Alaska Region (NMFS AKR) Stranding Program document Steller sea lion mortalities (n=43) in Southeast Alaska (particularly northern SE) for 2009 and 2010. NMFS AKR has noted an increase in sea lion carcasses in this region during this time in contrast to previous years. In 2009, NMFS received 24 reports of dead Steller sea lions in Southeast Alaska; in 2010, there were 19 reports. Five of these animals were female, 15 were male, and in 23 cases gender remained unconfirmed. Annual reported mortalities for this area were far lower in previous years.

Although NMFS AKR instituted a 24-7 reporting hotline in 2009, we do not attribute the increase in reports to an increase in effort. Two other hotlines have existed throughout past years to report Alaska strandings, maintained and advertised by both the Alaska SeaLife Center and NMFS Enforcement, while many reports still come through the U.S. Coast Guard.

With the unusual number of unexplained mortalities during 2009-10, NMFS Alaska Stranding Program has made response to Steller sea lions in Southeast Alaska a priority. We have enhanced our efforts to facilitate veterinarian-led necropsies where possible (14 out of 43 events). Our state veterinary pathologist, Dr. Kathy Burek, is currently analyzing histopathology for these cases and results are pending.

If you have any questions, please contact: Aleria Jensen at (907)586-7248, aleria.jensen@noaa.gov; Kaili Jackson at (907)586-7209, kaili.jackson@noaa.gov; or Kate Savage (907) 586-7312, kate.savage@noaa.gov in NOAA Fisheries Alaska Region Protected Resources Division.

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New iPhone App for Reporting Stranding Marine Mammals

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, working with researchers at UMass Amherst, has developed a new iPhone app to allow people to photograph and report live and dead stranded marine mammals they may encounter.

Using your phone's GPS technology, the reported photo will also transmit a GPS location of the stranded animal. It has options for reporting sea otters, seals, sea lions, whales, walrus, dophins and polar bears. This app will allow users to keep track of reports that are submitted to the Alaska Marine Mammal Stranding network. Reports are analyzed by wildlife experts allowing for immediate analysis of the situation and mobilization of rescue and response for live
stranded animals and testing of dead stranded animals.


AKStrandNet can be downloaded from the Apple App store at http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/akstrandnet/id383326791?mt=8.

Important Note: Please do not disturb or pick up live or dead stranded animals unless you are a trained responder holding a LOA, or unless you have contacted the National Marine Fisheries Service (1-877-925-7773), Alaska Sea Life Center (1-888-774-7325) or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (1-800-362-5148).

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