Small, But Welcome, Good News From Canada

by Barry Kent MacKay in BlogCanadaCoexisting with Wildlife on July 27, 2020

https://www.bornfreeusa.org/2020/07/27/small-but-welcome-good-news-from-canada/

Matthews, Sue / Public domain.

Amid the worldwide tsunami of bad news and sadness one searches for a trickle of positivity; something to celebrate.

For some time there has been a group, operating under the banner of the Pacific Balance Marine Management (PBMM), that has been lobbying to convince the government, and to garner public support, to legalize a commercial hunt for seals and sea lions on Canada’s west coast. The argument is the usual one – too many sea lions eating too many salmon (of commercial value, of course) in a region in need of employment and revenue. In an effort to seem to be attune to rapidly growing public awareness of just how badly our species has damaged the ecosphere upon which the survival of us all depends, a nuance was added: the seals and sea lions were eating fish needed by endangered orcas, whose own survival was thus compromised.

Fishermen commonly scapegoat any species that eats fish, blaming them for declines in the fish they want, seeing each desired fish consumed by something else as one belonging to them as if by divine right. Governments are motivated to go along with the idea in the hope of absolving themselves from accountability for the real threats to commercial fisheries, such as oil pollution, plastic pollution, toxic waste, nutriment overloading from agriculture and other human waste products, climate change, damage to breeding grounds from politically advantageous commercial development, and, to a huge degree, overfishing.

It is not seals and sea lions that threaten salmon, but deforestation that degrades upstream breeding habitat of salmon, the dams put across rivers, and the relentless pursuit of profit; and lately, it seems, the dissemination of disease and parasites from coastal fish farms. The two species food chains envisioned by the would-be seal killers fail to take into account a complexity of multi-species interactions within a dynamic environment that is difficult for non-scientists to comprehend, and so, it is hoped, is ignored, along with the scientists.

Once we realized that the science did not support PBMM claims, we pointed out that the notorious east coast commercial hunt for harp seals demonstrated that there was nearly no market for seal products, notwithstanding decades of effort in research and development into commercially viable seal products and efforts to find markets, funded by Canadian tax dollars.

Last year, a video that showed fishermen lobbing explosive devices into a pack of west coast sea lions went viral. Charges were laid.

And then, the headless sea lions started to appear. Bodies, reportedly including at least one of the endangered Steller’s sea lion, began to wash ashore along Vancouver Island’s coastline. There is a market for the intact skulls of mature sea lions.

There are only seals, no sea lions, on the east coast (and the seal skulls are often bashed or shot to kill the animal at any rate) but for skulls of the northern fur seal, Steller’s sea lion, and California sea lion, and maybe even the smaller harbor seal, all found on the west coast, there is some demand.

The good news? Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans, which manages marine mammals, has confirmed that no permits will be issued to PBMM or anyone to allow commercial hunting of west coast pinnipeds – seals, fur seals, and sea lions. Of course, we must remain vigilant. But for now, our west coast pinnipeds remain protected in Canada!

Canada’s beleaguered seals are running out of time

March 13, 2020 0 Comments

For decades, Humane Society International and the Humane Society of the United States have worked to stop Canada’s brutal commercial seal hunt, where seal pups are mercilessly clubbed and shot to death for their fur. Leading this fight has been Rebecca Aldworth, executive director of HSI/Canada. For 18 years, Rebecca has traveled to the ice floes to document the slaughter and focus a global spotlight on this important animal protection issue. Those efforts have helped turn the tide for seals—today more than 37 countries ban commercial seal product trade, which has led to a drop in demand and prices for seal fur in Atlantic Canada.

Unfortunately, the killing has continued, and the seals now face more threats than ever before, including climate change. In this guest post today, Rebecca discusses why Canada needs to act fast to stop commercial sealing before it is too late for these iconic animals.

Right now, mother harp seals are nursing their pups on the spectacular ice floes off Canada’s east coast. The scene is breathtakingly beautiful and incredibly peaceful—and it draws people from all over the world to witness it firsthand. I’ve been lucky enough to be on the ice several times this week, documenting the harp seal nursery for Humane Society International.

But it’s a bittersweet experience, because the adorable pups who live in this pristine environment are already facing mortal threats to their survival.

A recent segment on “Good Morning America” exposed the devastating impacts of climate change on the ice breeding harp seals. Over the past five decades, scientists have tracked a significant and constant decline in the sea ice cover in eastern Canada. For the harp seal pups born on that ice, it spells disaster. Warming temperatures are causing the ice to literally melt from under the pups and so many are forced into the water before they are strong enough to survive there. In some recent years we have witnessed up to 100% mortality in seal pups born in key whelping areas because of the vanishing sea ice.

But there is another story—an even greater risk to the seal pups—and it is one that GMA chose not to tell. The very harp seals who are contending with these devastating impacts of climate change are the primary targets of Canada’s commercial seal hunt, the largest and cruelest slaughter of marine mammals on earth. In just a few weeks’ time, Canadian seal hunters will descend on the peaceful harp seal nursery and turn it into an open air slaughterhouse. The pups who survive the destruction of their sea ice habitat will be brutally clubbed and shot to death for their fur, their tiny bodies left on the ice to rot. Our Protect Seals team has exposed the cruelty of this so-called hunt for years; defenseless four-week-old seal pups are routinely shot and left crawling through their own blood, impaled on metal hooks, dragged onto bloody boat decks and clubbed to death. Notably, veterinarians who have studied the killing have labelled all killing methods at the commercial seal hunt “inherently inhumane.”

Our campaign has stopped so much of this cruelty, by closing the most important global markets for products of commercial sealing. In the past decade, our work has saved millions of pups from the slaughter. Yet the killing continues, with tens of thousands of seal pups falling victim to the commercial seal hunt each year.

Tragically, there is no way to reverse the impacts of climate change on the harp seals’ sea ice habitat in the near term. But a responsible government can and should end commercial seal hunting. That is exactly what we are urging Canada’s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, to do.

Everyone should have the opportunity to see the stunning harp seal nursery in their lifetime. But if Canada fails to take action soon, that opportunity may be lost forever—for us and for future generations.

Help us end the commercial seal slaughter in Canada

Children’s Pool in La Jolla Closed for Pupping Season

Violators face misdemeanor charges that carry fines of up to $1,000.

Childrens-Pool-Pupping-Season-KNSD-2
NBC 7 San Diego

Children’s Pool in La Jolla Closed for Pupping Season

The annual closure of the Children’s Pool for harbor seal pupping season started on Sunday.

The beach area will remain closed through May 15, 2020.

Pupping Season Underway in La Jolla

NBC 7 San Diego

Children’s Pool in La Jolla now closed to the public for Pupping Season

The Children’s Pool was opened in 1932 after Ellen Browning Scripps paid for a seawall to built so that inexperienced swimmers can enjoy the beach. Seals started to use the relatively calm water of the beach to rear their pups in the 1990s.

The city started closing the beach in 2014 after environmentalists complained that people were disturbing the marine mammals. The California Coastal Commission issued a permit allowing the beach to close to protect the seals.

A group advocating for beach access called Friends of the Children’s Pool sued the city arguing that the closure violated the California Coastal Act and Marine Mammal Protection Act.

A lower court sided with the group but the issued was resolved in the city’s favor last year when an appeals court reversed the decision, allowing the city to close the beach for 5 1/2 months each year.

60 dead seals found along warming Alaska coast

Scientists are trying to figure out whether the deaths are due to loss of sea ice or something else

A dead seal was found on a beach near Kotzebue, Alaska, in May. Federal biologists are investigating the deaths of at least 60 ice seals along Alaska’s west coast. (Raime Fronstin/National Park Service/Associated Press)

At least 60 dead seals have been discovered along beaches of the Bering Sea and Chukchi Sea in northwestern Alaska, and scientists are trying to determine what caused their deaths, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said on Wednesday.

The bearded, spotted and ringed seals have been found at sites ranging from southern edge of the Bering Strait region to the Chukchi coastline above the Arctic Circle, NOAA’s Fisheries said.

Ice in the Bering and Chukchi seas has been far scarcer than normal, and sea-surface temperatures have been far higher than usual, according to scientists and agency reports. But the cause of the seal die-off is as yet unknown, said Julie Speegle, an Alaska spokesperson for NOAA Fisheries.

“We are mobilizing to get our marine mammal experts and our partners there to get some samples,” she said. “It could be a harmful algal bloom. It could be a number of things.”

There is almost no ice left in the Bering Sea. The summer melt has been at least three weeks ahead of normal, while melt in the Chukchi Sea is about a month ahead of normal, according to Brian Brettschneider, a climatologist with the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Sea-surface temperatures along the coastlines of the Bering Sea and the southern Chukchi Sea were as much as 4.5 degrees Celsius above normal last month and remained well above normal as of this week, according to NOAA data.

Bearded, spotted and ringed seals use sea ice as platforms for food foraging, for resting and for raising their young. Alaska’s bearded and ringed seals are currently listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

A dead grey whale that washed up on a beach is shown in this handout photo. The American federal agency dedicated to ocean science declared an ‘unusual mortality event’ as the bodies of dozens of grey whales washed up on West Coast beaches in Canada and the U.S. this spring. (HO-Cascadia Research/Canadian Press)

The reports of dead seals, which started in May and come from village residents and a National Park Service biologist, coincide with mounting discoveries of dead grey whales along the West Coast from California to Alaska.

The whale die-off has been designated as an “unusual mortality event,” a classification that authorizes a special investigation.

Speegle said it is unclear whether the seal and whale die-offs are connected.

https://www.cbc.ca/news/world/dead-seals-alaska-whales-warming-1.5173237?fbclid=IwAR0cGBm2Rj-awstWSLNA7Kaxwlo2tXUbirWDfOwH3WyKjkMnULq0kBFTG-U

ON THE COAST OF ALASKA SET IN THE MYSTERIOUS DEATHS OF DOZENS OF SEALS

https://galpost.com/on-the-coast-of-alaska-set-in-the-mysterious-deaths-of-dozens-of-seals-photo/13922/

Along the coast of the Bering and Chukchi seas in the American state of Alaska discovered a large number of dead seals. Killing at least 60 animals of the three species – ringed seals, the spotted and sea hares. While the cause of death of these marine mammals is not established, according to the National oceanic and atmospheric administration (NOAA).

Carcasses of seals were found in cities Kotlik, Kotzebue, Kivalina, and the Islands of Stuart and the St. Lawrence. While scientists analyze samples.

Some of the dead animal was without hair. Experts are trying to figure out whether it happened in the decomposition of, or was caused by an abnormal shedding that was observed during another mass death of seals in the 2011-2016 years. Then failed to install by the deaths of 657 individuals.

The problem is serious for the region, as the seals are an important food resource for Alaska natives. Some people believe that it could happen because of pollution. Others reported that this year the seal is unusually thin, which tells about the availability of their prey.

Mass deaths of seals in recent years were also found in other regions of the world. So, in 2014, victims of a bird flu outbreak became 4.5 thousand animals in Germany, Denmark and Sweden. Then it was noted that the real tragedy is impossible to know. In reality, could have been dead tens of thousands of seals.

And in 2017, was killed 132 ringed seals in lake Baikal. Then dozens of carcasses were found on three sites of Baikal coast near the village of Novyy enkheluk in Buryatia, near the village of Murino of the Irkutsk region and along the Circum-Baikal railway, between the villages of Port Baikal and Kultuk in the Irkutsk region. The cause of death of animals at the deepest freshwater lake in the world was hunger. As explained by the then experts, the lack of fodder could be caused by the fact that the population of Baikal seals in recent years has increased significantly.

Mysterious, Gaping Holes in Antarctic Ice Explained

Mysterious, Gaping Holes in Antarctic Ice Explained

Scientists equipped seals with temporary satellite tags and sent them swimming under the sea ice in Antarctica to collect data on water conditions.

Credit: Dan Costa/University of California, Santa Cruz

Enormous holes in the Antarctic winter ice pack have popped up sporadically since the 1970s, but the reason for their formation has been largely mysterious.

Scientists, with the help of floating robots and tech-equipped seals, may now have the answer: The so-called polynyas (Russian for “open water”) seem to be the result of storms and salt, new research finds.

Polynyas have gotten a lot of attention lately because two very large ones opened in the Weddell Sea in 2016 and 2017; in the latter event, the open waters stretched over 115,097 square miles (298,100 square kilometers), according to an article published in April in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

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Now, the most comprehensive look ever at the ocean conditions during polynya formation reveals that these stretches of open water grow due to short-timescale climate variations and particularly nasty weather. The polynyas also release a lot of deep-ocean heat into the atmosphere, with consequences that scientists are still working out. [Antarctica: The Ice-Covered Bottom of the World (Photos)]

The hole in the sea ice offshore of the Antarctic coast was spotted by a NASA satellite on Sept. 25, 2017.

The hole in the sea ice offshore of the Antarctic coast was spotted by a NASA satellite on Sept. 25, 2017.

Credit: NASA

“It may modify weather patterns around Antarctica,” study leader Ethan Campbell, a doctoral student in oceanography at the University of Washington, told Live Science. “Possibly farther.”

Researchers already suspected that storms had some role in the creation of polynyas in recent years. A paper published in April by atmospheric scientists in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres pointed to a particularly violent storm with wind speeds up to 72 miles per hour (117 kilometers per hour) in 2017.

But even though the winter storms of 2016 and 2017 were extreme, stormy seas are the norm in the Antarctic winter, Campbell said.

“If it were only storms, we’d see polynyas all the time, but we don’t,” he said. Instead, large polynyas are relatively rare. There were three huge ones in 1974, 1975 and 1976, but nothing significant again until 2016.

Campbell and his team drew data from two robotic, human-size floats that were deployed in the Weddell Sea by the National Science Foundation-funded Southern Ocean Carbon and Climate Observations and Modeling project (SOCCOM). The floats drift in the currents about a mile below the ocean’s surface, Campbell said, collecting data about water temperature, salinity and carbon content.

For comparison purposes, the researchers also used year-round observations from Antarctic research vessels and even scientific seals — wild pinnipeds fitted with small instruments to collect ocean data as the animals conduct their usual travels.

Put together, these observations explained the full story of the 2016 and 2017 polynyas. The first ingredient, Campbell said, was part of a climate pattern called the Southern Annular Mode, the polar version of El Niño. Cambell said that a regular climate variation that can carry winds either farther from the Antarctic coast, in which case they become weaker, or nearer to the coast, becoming stronger. When the variability shifts the winds closer and stronger, it creates more upwelling of warm, salty water from deep in the Weddell Sea to the colder, fresher ocean surface. [In Photos: Research Vessel Headed to ‘Hidden’ Antarctic Ecosystem]

This climate pattern and subsequent upwelling made the ocean surface unusually saline in 2016, Campbell said, which, in turn, made it easier for the ocean water to mix vertically. Typically, differences in salinity keep ocean layers separate, just as less-dense oil floats on top of water and refuses to mix. But because the ocean surface was unusually salty, there was less difference between the surface and deeper waters.

“The ocean was unusually salty at the surface, and that made the barrier to mixing a lot weaker,” Campbell said.

Now all the ocean needed was a little stir. And the winters of 2016 and 2017 provided the spoon. Major storms created wind and waves that mixed the water vertically, bringing up warm water from the ocean bottom that melted the sea ice.

The effects of the polynyas that formed are still somewhat mysterious. The researchers found that the interior of the ocean beneath them cooled by 0.36 degrees Fahrenheit (0.2 degrees Celsius). That released heat might change local weather patterns and even shift winds globally, Campbell said.

More concerning, he said, is that the deep ocean water exposed to the atmosphere during a polynya is potentially carbon rich. Deep Antarctic waters are the graveyards for marine life, which release carbon as they decay. If that carbon enters the atmosphere via polynyas, these open-water openings could contribute slightly to climate change, Campbell said.

Whether polynyas do so is still up in the air, Campbell said, but the new study should help scientists pin down more details of Antarctica’s changing climate. Current models of the Antarctic seem to predict more polynyas than actually exist, Campbell said. Now, climate modelers will have more data to improve those predictions, creating a better virtual Antarctica for understanding climate change.

The research appeared June 10 in the journal Nature.

Amid seal and sea lion boom, group calls for hunt on B.C. coast

Quickest way to reverse declining salmon stocks is to introduce a harvest: Pacific Balance Pinnipeds Society

Some fishermen want to see a cull of sea lions and seals which they say are overpopulated on the B.C. coast. (Nic Amaya/CBC)

For the first time in decades, a small-scale seal hunt is taking place on Canada’s West Coast — all in the hopes that it leads to the establishment of a commercial industry to help control booming seal and sea lion populations and protect the region’s fish stocks.

In early November, a group called the Pacific Balance Pinnipeds Society (PBPS) started using First Nations hunting rights as part of a plan to harvest 30 seals. The society plans to test the meat and blubber to see if it’s fit for human consumption and other uses.

“We can look at opening up harvesting and starting a new industry,” said Tom Sewid, the society’s director and a commercial fisherman. “Since the [West Coast] seal cull ended in the 1970s, the population has exploded.”

Sewid, a member of the Kwakwaka’wakw group of Indigenous peoples, points out that the animals have been hunted for thousands of years. Recent decades with little or no hunting have been an anomaly, he said, pointing to research that shows seal numbers are even higher now than in the 1800s.

Out go the nets, in come the sea lions

What’s become an ongoing battle between humans and sea lions played out on a recent nighttime fishing expedition, when Sewid and a crew of commercial fishermen set out in a 24-metre seine boat to fish for herring off the coast of Parksville, B.C.

The crew’s goal was to catch about 100 tonnes of herring, which rise to the surface to feed after dark. But the faint barking of sea lions was soon heard over the thrum of the boat’s diesel engine.

“All them sea lions out there are all happy — [they’re] all yelling, ‘Yahoo, it’s dinner time!'” Sewid said.

Once the crew spotted the herring, they let out hundreds of metres of net, while a smaller boat helped to circle it around the huge mass of fish. The crew then closed the bottom of the net, capturing the herring.

Watch sea lions pillage fishermen’s nets:

CBC News BC
Sea Lions feeding in fishing nets
 WATCH

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Many Sea Lions are caught in fishing nets, as they try to feed. 0:27

But the catch also provided some uninvited visitors with a captive dinner: Dozens of sea lions jumped over the floats holding up the net and started to gorge.

“These guys, it’s just a buffet for them,” said Sewid, as the bodies of the sea lions glistened in the boat’s floodlights. “Just like pigs at a trough.”

Sewid said the sea lions have learned there’s an easy meal to be had whenever they see or hear the fishing boats.

“They’re not afraid of us. They’ve habituated themselves to seeing that humans and fishing equates easy access to food, which is not right,” he said. “The animal kingdom is not supposed to be like that.”

Restarting a banned hunt

The hunting of seals and sea lions — which are collectively known as pinnipeds — has been banned on the West Coast for more than 40 years. It’s one reason their numbers have exploded along the entire Pacific coastline of North America.

According to one study, the harbour seal population in the Salish Sea is estimated at 80,000 today, up from 8,600 in 1975. The study also says seals and sea lions now eat six times as many chinook salmon as are caught in the region’s commercial and sports fisheries combined.

That adds up to millions of tonnes of commercially valuable fish.

Sewid’s group is proposing to cull current populations of harbour seals and sea lions by half, which would see thousands of the animals killed each year.

Tom Sewid is leading the effort to secure what he calls a sustainable harvest of seals and sea lions along the B.C. coast. (Greg Rasmussen/CBC)

The society’s small-scale “test” harvest is taking place between B.C.’s southern Gulf Islands and as far north as Campbell River, on Vancouver Island. It’s being carried out under the provisions of the Aboriginal Fisheries Strategy, which gives some First Nations harvesting and management rights for food and ceremonial purposes.

Testing the meat to see if it’s safe for human consumption is a first step in a plan to eventually gain permission for what the PBPS envisions as a sustainable, humane commercial hunt, which would largely be carried out by coastal First Nations.

“All the meat that’s in there, you’re looking at the high-end restaurants [that would sell it],” Sewid said. “The hides can also be used.”

Seal blubber is particularly valuable, he said, because it can be rendered down into an oil that’s in demand because of its high Omega-3 fatty acid content.

Watch fishing crew struggle to free sea lions entangled in their nets:

CBC News BC
Sea Lions freed from fishing nets
 WATCH

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Watch as fishing crew struggles to free sea lions trapped in their nets. 0:49

One of the biggest hurdles facing the group is convincing the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans to open a commercial hunt on the West Coast.

The seal hunt that takes place in the Atlantic and Arctic is controversial, and has long been subject to protests and fierce opposition from animal rights groups. The group expects a West Coast harvest to also face fierce confrontations.

Canadian Inuit have been waging a counter-campaign, highlighting the importance of the animal and the longstanding tradition of their hunt.

Most Canadian seal products are also banned in Europe and a handful of other countries, but the society says demand is strong in Asia.

Supporters and opponents

The PBPS does have a growing list of supporters, including 110 First Nations groups, a number of commercial fishing organizations, and some sectors of B.C.’s economically important sport fishing sector.

However, one key player, the Sport Fishing Institute of B.C., opposes a large commercial hunt, fearing it would generate public outrage and might not achieve the goal of enhancing fish stocks.

The institute’s director, Martin Paish, says the group sees some value in targeting some seals and other fish predators at specific times of year in a number of key river systems; he believes a limited hunt would help protect salmon stocks and boost the billion-dollar-a-year B.C. sport fishing industry.

“Our goal is to use predator control in a careful manner to improve chinook [salmon] production where it is needed,” said Paish.

Carl Walters is a fish biologist and UBC professor who supports cutting B.C.’s population of seals and sea lions by half. (Nic Amaya/CBC)

Fisheries scientist Carl Walters, a professor emeritus with UBC, believes culling the regions sea lions and seals could dramatically boost salmon stocks. He points to numerous studies showing how pinniped populations have been increasing, while salmon numbers have been plummeting.

“They’re killing a really high percentage of the small salmon shortly after they go into the ocean, about half of the coho smolts and a third of the chinooks,” he said.

Advocates of a hunt are also pitching it as a way to help B.C.’s endangered southern resident killer whales, which feed mainly on salmon.

“The thing that would benefit southern resident killer whales is to see improved survival of small chinook salmon — and I think the only way we can achieve that is by reducing seal numbers,” Walters said.

Peter Ross, from the Coastal Ocean Research Institute, says there would be little benefit to salmon from a seal and sea lion cull. (Nic Amaya/CBC)

Others disagree, including Peter Ross, the vice-president of research and executive director of the Coastal Ocean Research Institute.

“Killing of seals and sea lions is not going to have any positive impact for any salmon populations in coastal British Columbia,” he said.

While a few localized populations of salmon might benefit from a cull, Ross said climate change, habitat destruction and overfishing are all bigger factors in the overall decline of stocks.

Other subspecies of orcas, however, feed mainly on seals, so a hunt would reduce their access to prey.

Back on the boat, Sewid concedes a hunt would be controversial — but he firmly believes it’s necessary.

“All the indicators are there,” he said. “It’s time to get the balance back.”

The fishing crew from the Western Investor are shown harvesting herring in November. But they say they are being hampered by dozens of sea lions in their nets almost every night. (Nic Amaya/CBC)

Hawaiian monk seal pup rescued from Molokai

https://apnews.com/e46cc6a32b7e4b26844e3156ec61ed24/Hawaiian-monk-seal-pup-rescued-from-Molokai

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii (AP) — A Hawaiian monk seal pup found malnourished on Molokai is now in the care of the Marine Mammal Center’s hospital on the Big Island.

The pup named Sole is in stable condition at the Ke Kai Ola facility in Kailua-Kona after it was rescued last week.

The male pup born in late June was prematurely weaned from its mother earlier this month, the center said. The short nursing time caused the pup to have low body weight and minimal reserves, creating concern for wildlife officials.

“After several consultations with the patient-residents and the Kalaupapa community, the decision was made to rescue the animal,” said Eric Brown, Marine Ecologist at Kalaupapa National Historic Park.

Center veterinarians, supported by the U.S. Coast Guard, the National Park Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, rescued the pup and flew it from Molokai to the Big Island animal hospital.

“With only a few hundred monk seals living in the main Hawaiian Islands, the survival of each individual is critical to the recovery of the population,” said Claire Simeone, the center’s hospital director. “Conservation takes a village. We are so grateful to our partners for their support in achieving our mission, and ensuring this pup made it safely to Ke Kai Ola.”

The pup is now feeding on a blended fish mash, and it will transition to eating whole fish as it grows stronger, Simeone said. The center plans to keep minimal human contact with the seal, so it can have the best chance of survival in the wild.

The center has rehabilitated 23 monk seals and returned them back to the wild since the facility opened in 2014.

This could explain all those strange happenings in Alaska’s waters

Bears feeding on a fin whale carcass in Larson Bay, Alaska. Photo: NOAA© Provided by WP Company LLC d/b/a The Washington Post Bears feeding on a fin whale carcass in Larson Bay, Alaska. Photo: NOAA

http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/this-could-explain-all-those-strange-happenings-in-alaska%e2%80%99s-waters/ar-BBpA0Cf?ocid=spartanntp

The Washington Post
by Ryan Schuessler

New research is shedding light on how far toxic algae blooms have spread in Alaska, and surprised scientists are saying this is just the beginning.

A study from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Northwest fisheries center found domoic acid and saxitoxin – algae-produced neurotoxins that are deadly in high doses — in 13 marine mammal species across Alaska, including as far north as the Beaufort and Chukchi seas.

Researchers say the study is just the latest piece of evidence that warming ocean temperatures are allowing these blooms to stretch into Arctic ecosystems, threatening marine life and the communities who rely on the sea to survive.

“The waters are warming, the sea ice is melting, and we are getting more light in those waters,” said Kathi Lefebvre, NOAA Fisheries research scientist. “Those conditions, without a doubt, are more favorable for algal growth. With that comes harmful algae.”

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The study, which analyzed more than 900 samples taken from stranded or harvested marine mammals in Alaska between 2004 and 2013, found algal toxins in all species sampled, including bowhead whales, fur seals and sea otters.

“We were surprised,” Lefebvre said. “We did not expect these toxins to be present in the food web in high enough levels to be detected in these predators.”

“There seems to be a potential risk for marine mammal health,” she added. “Then there’s also a seafood security risk, in that these communities rely on and depend on these animals for food.”

“I think that’s going to have a huge impact on the Native communities and coastal communities in Alaska,” said Bruce Wright, senior scientist for the Aleutian and Pribilof Island Association, the federally recognized tribal organization of Alaska’s indigenous Aleut citizens. “I think that we’re going to see a number of shifts in our ecosystem as a consequence of warming, and I think some species will be displaced by other species, and others will disappear. There [are] going to be consequences and people are going to have to adapt.”

NOAA’s new study, released last week, comes after months of strange marine life die offs in Alaska. Last year, NOAA declared the deaths of more than 30 whales in the Gulf of Alaska to be an unusual mortality event. Just last month, thousands of dead birds began washing ashore in Prince William Sound.

“I’m pretty sure that’s associated with these algal blooms,” Wright said of the bird die offs and other events. Toxic algal blooms in the region, particularly 2015’s, likely wipe out entire parts of the lower food chain, he added, the effects of which reverberate through the ecosystem.

A massive toxic algal bloom, believed the largest ever recorded, reaped havoc in the Pacific in 2015. Stretching from southern California north to the Aleutian Islands and Bering Sea, it prompted the closure of recreational and commercial fisheries across the American and Canadian coastlines.

“It really does point out that there is a need for more monitoring,” Lefebvre said.

Increasingly warm waters in the north Pacific are believed to be behind other strange disease outbreaks as well. A recent study from the University of Puget Sound found that warmer waters in 2014 contributed to an epidemic of sea star wasting disease in the North Pacific, which decimated starfish populations in the north Pacific.

“My thought is, absolutely, the environment is changing very rapidly in Alaska,” Lefebvre said. “And it’s warming, and there are changes in fundamental parts of the ecosystem.”

She added: “And these ecosystems have developed over millions of years, so when they’re rapidly changing, the chances they’re going to be changed for the better, over all, are very slim.”

http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/this-could-explain-all-those-strange-happenings-in-alaska%e2%80%99s-waters/ar-BBpA0Cf?ocid=spartanntp