London (CNN)Bird flu has killed at least 30 swans from Queen Elizabeth’s flock, with more expected to succumb to the disease, UK officials say.
Tamarack Wildlife Rehabilitation and Education Center near Saegertown has admitted four eagles with high lead toxicity levels in recent weeks. Three have died.
SAEGERTOWN — Bald eagles in Pennsylvania are protected from hunters but not from the lead in hunting ammunition.
Tamarack Wildlife Rehabilitation and Education Center near Saegertown typically treats two or three eagles each year for lead poisoning. But in recent weeks, the center has admitted four adult bald eagles, two of which still had the metal in their stomachs. As of Thursday, only one of the birds was alive and was in “guarded” condition.
“We’re doing our best but it is difficult for birds to come back from lead toxicity levels this high,” said Carol Holmgren, Tamarack executive director and wildlife rehabilitator.
Since 2009, the nonprofit in Crawford County has admitted 71 bald eagles. Twenty-five tested positive for lead poisoning and four, not counting the bird now being treated, have survived, Holmgren said.
The most recent lead-poisoning patient to arrive was a 30-year-old bald eagle, assumed to be male, and nicknamed “Kiski” for the township in Armstrong County where it was found Sunday. The bird was taken to Tamarack on Monday.
Holmgren said the center has a special machine to test blood lead levels and this bird’s results were higher than the machine can read. She knows it’s a long shot to treat bald eagles with such high lead toxicity but Tamarack still tries.
“Morally, ethically, it’s worth it,” Holmgren said.
Treatment involves the administration of drugs, which can require a team of four people, including a main eagle handler, Holmgren said.
She said it’s “gut-wrenching” to see these beautiful birds “deathly ill in a very unpleasant way.” The lead harms their internal organs, she said.
Although no longer listed as endangered at the federal level, bald eagles are considered protected in Pennsylvania and can’t be hunted here.
In 1980, the commonwealth had a known nesting population of only three pairs of bald eagles, according to the Pennsylvania Game Commission. Fueled by a reintroduction program in the 1980s, the nesting eagles had increased to more than 270 pairs in 2013, according to the Game Commission.
Bands on Kiski show the bird’s age and that it was banded in Dauphin County. It’s believed the bird was brought to Pennsylvania from Saskatchewan as part of the reintroduction effort. The eagle has already survived being hit by a car, for which it was treated in 2012, Holmgren said.
The Game Commission cited the pesticide DDT and its effect on bald eagle reproduction as the primary reason the birds had declined. DDT use was banned in the United States in 1972.
While it’s good that the bald eagle population is rebounding, more birds also means more eagles suffering from lead poisoning, Holmgren said.
She doesn’t blame hunters, some of whom she said are wonderful conservationists.
“I think respectful education is what’s key,” Holmgren said about finding a solution to the lead problem.
She said the most obvious is to use non-lead ammunition. When that’s not possible, she said, it’s important to dispose of mammals killed with lead bullets or pellets in such a way that eagles and other predators and scavengers can’t find and eat remains that contain lead fragments.
Research indicates that the birds are ingesting the lead found in them, Holmgren said. Bald eagles are foragers that will scavenge mammal carcasses, according to the Game Commission. Holmgren said the birds could be eating the remains of deer, woodchucks and other mammals that have been killed with lead ammunition. The eagles could also be eating ducks that have swallowed lead sinkers or been killed with lead pellets.
“It’s lead they have digested that’s really hitting these birds hard,” Holmgren said.
By SUSAN MONTOYA BRYAN, Associated Press
A wolf that once roamed parts of the American Southwest and northern Mexico would be removed from the list of federally protected species under legislation proposed by U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake.
The Arizona Republican introduced the measure last week. He’s a critic of the Mexican gray wolf recovery plan that was adopted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in November, calling it a regulatory nightmare for ranchers and rural communities.
“I plan to continue my efforts to push for real recovery that takes into account the needs of the local stakeholders most impacted by this policy,” Flake said in a statement Monday.
The legislation calls for the director of the Fish and Wildlife Service to determine if a population of fewer than 100 wolves has been established in the species’ historical range along the Arizona-New Mexico border. If so, the predator would be considered recovered and removed from the endangered list.
Management of the wolves would be turned over to state wildlife agencies in Arizona and New Mexico once the Fish and Wildlife Service makes a determination.
An estimated 113 wolves roam parts of Arizona and New Mexico, according to the most recent data. Members of the wolf recovery team will be conducting a new survey in the coming weeks.
There have been unsuccessful legislative efforts in the past to limit protections for the Mexican gray wolf, but environmentalists say Flake’s bill is an attempt to sidestep the Endangered Species Act.
“It should be the job of scientists, not politicians, to determine when a species is recovered,” said Bryan Bird, the Southwest program director for the Washington, D.C.-based group Defenders of Wildlife.
Environmental groups have pressed for years for more captive wolves to be released into the wild, but ranchers and elected leaders in rural communities have pushed back because the predators sometimes attack domestic livestock and wild game.
In 2016, the U.S. Interior Department’s internal watchdog said the Fish and Wildlife Service had not fulfilled its obligation to remove Mexican gray wolves that preyed on pets and cattle.
The new recovery plan, which was adopted following decades of legal challenges and political battles, calls for management eventually to revert to the states but not until the population averages 320 wolves over an eight-year period. In each of the last three years, the population would have to exceed the average to ensure the species doesn’t backslide.
Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Officials believe an American symbol was shot down with a bullet last week in Routt County, and they are trying to find the person responsible.
Steamboat Veterinary Hospital’s Dr. Lee Meyring went to the Born Free Wildlife Rehabilitation facility outside of Steamboat Springs on Saturday morning, Dec. 16, to euthanize the bald eagle that was found injured alongside a road two days earlier.
“When I put that eagle down, it was the most significant sadness that I’ve ever experienced,” Meyring said.
Tracy Bye, who runs Born Free, said before the eagle was euthanized, they brought him outside with views of the surrounding mountains.
“He was alert and the wind was blowing in his feathers and everything,” Bye said.
After administering the shot, the bird slowly dropped its head and closed its eyes.
“The wind chimes went off,” Bye said. “A really emotional situation because it didn’t need to be. It was like he was forgiving people even though a person did this to him.”
The bird was found alongside Routt County Road 80 in west Routt County seven miles north of Hayden. A Colorado Parks and Wildlife officer took the bird to Bye, who then had it examined by Meyring.
It was initially believed the eagle might have been hit by a car, but X-rays revealed the full extent of the injuries. One of the eagle’s talons was nearly severed, and there were bullet fragments found in the eagle’s body, Meyring said.
The most humane solution was to deliver pain medication and then euthanize it.
It was the worst case of animal cruelty that Meyring has seen during his 22-year career.
“I would have to say this is right at the top,” Meyring said. “This is certainly one of these because you know this was nothing but malicious intent.”
Before deciding to euthanize it, Bye took care of the male eagle and fed him.
“They are so wise that they know you are trying to help them,” Bye said. “He just knew. He knew something bad was up. Their talons could break your wrist if they wanted to.”
Those who rehabilitate wild animals typically do not name their patients, but Bye called the eagle Spirit.
“They love the back of their head scratched,” Bye said.
Meyring and others do not believe what happened to Spirit was a hunting accident.
“This one really just made you stop and question the path that we are on as Americans,” Meyring said.
Born Free, which depends completely on donations to operate, has received $5,000 from an anonymous Steamboat resident for information that leads to the arrest of the person responsible.
“This money was donated to Born Free just for this eagle and to honor him,” Bye said.
Parks and Wildlife Officer Justin Pollock is investigating the incident, and the eagle will be sent to a lab to collect evidence.
The public is being asked to help find the person who did this.
“Any information would be helpful,” said Pollock, who also does not believe this was a hunting accident.
People with information can contact Routt County Communications at 970-879-1090. People can also contact Colorado’s Operation Game Thief by calling 1-877-265-6648 or emailing email@example.com. That organization also offers cash rewards.
“It’s not too late to do the right thing,” Pollock said.
Harming a bald eagle is a state and federal crime.
The bird is protected by both the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.
Because the population grew, the bird was removed from the endangered species list in 2007, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
by Jim Robertson
Although “From the Brink of Oblivion and Back Again” was the title I gave to one of two chapters I devoted to the plight of wolves in my book Exposing the Big Game: Living Targets of a Dying Sport, I still hadn’t fully realized just how apt that title would soon be. At that time, wolves were federally protected and their removal from the Endangered Species List was just someone’s bad idea that had yet to see its dark day. Frankly, I thought we would be a little more evolved as a species by now.
But over and over states have proven themselves unworthy by declaring open seasons on wolves, without regard for the species’ future or for the welfare of individual wolves. Indeed, the ongoing warlike attack on wolves is anything but sporting or humane, with kill methods ranging from traps and snares to aerial hunting, running them down with dogs or luring them in and sniping at entire packs with semi-automatic rifles—depending on a given state’s predilection.
At the same time, many hunters and trappers go out of their way to express their hatred for wolves through horrific acts of overkill. Taking sick pleasure in further degrading their victims by glibly posing in morbid photos of trapped or bloodied wolves, they spread their snuff shots across the internet fishing for praise, while taunting wolf advocates.
For thousands of years, wolves played a central role as keepers of nature’s balance across the American landscape. Wolves are the personification of untamed wilderness; their presence is a sign of an ecosystem relatively intact.
But bigotry toward wolves has thrived across the country since colonial times and wolves have long been the object of unwarranted phobias. Today’s wolf-haters panic at the thought of natural predators competing for “their” trophy “game” animals and loath anything that might threaten their exploitive way of life. They view the federal government as the enemy in their ongoing combat against wilderness, and grasp for local control of species like wolves, who, until recently, were all but extinct in the continental U.S. Far from being their foe however, the federal government has actually been a fervent ally.
The contentious removal of wolves from the federal endangered species list—long before they were truly recovered—was a coldly calculated course set in motion by the Bush Administration, dutifully followed by the Obama Administration and rendered the law of the land through an underhanded act of Congress in 2011. This crooked covenant, conjured up for the sake of ranchers and trophy hunters, left the wolves’ fate in the custody of hostile western states…and fits right in with a centuries-old, historic norm.
In 1630, Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony—known for holding the first Thanksgiving Day celebration…and Salem witch hunts—felt biblically impelled and duty-bound to “subdue the earth.” Hence, they were the first to establish a bounty on wolves. Soon the other colonies followed their example and set bounties of their own, and a systematic genocide of wolves in America spread west with the “settling” of the land.
In 1818, Ohio declared a “War of Extermination” against wolves and bears. Iowa began their wolf bounty in 1858; in 1865 and 1869 Wisconsin and Colorado followed suit. State by state wolves were shot, trapped and poisoned to extinction. As the demand for wolf pelts increased, “wolfers” began killing grazers like elk or bison and poisoning the meat as bait, decimating whole packs of unsuspecting canines in one fell swoop.
By 1872, the year President Grant created Yellowstone National Park, 100,000 wolves were being annihilated annually. 5,450 were killed in 1884 in Montana alone, after a wolf bounty was initiated there. By the end of 1886, a total of 10,261 wolves were offered up for bounty (sixteen times Montana’s 2011 population of 653 “recovered” wolves). Wyoming enacted their bounty in 1875 and in 1913 set a penalty of $300 for freeing a wolf from a trap.
Not to be outdone, the US government began a federal poisoning program in 1915 that would finish off the rest of the wolves in the region—including Yellowstone. By 1926 wolves had been completely extirpated from America’s premier national park.
Having no more regard for wolves than those who originally caused their extinctions, willfully-ignorant wolf-haters in the tri-state area of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming have not received their reintroduction with open arms but rather with loaded arms, hoping to turn the clock back to the dark ages of centuries past. The posture they assume on the subject of wolves is as warped and ill-informed as any Massachusetts witch hunter’s.
With the wolf population in the tri-state area at only a fraction of its historic sum, the federal government unceremoniously removed them from the endangered species list (and consequently from federal protection) in 2009, casting their “management” (read: re-eradication) into the clutches of eager states that wasted no time implementing wolf hunting seasons. Montana quickly sold 15,603 wolf permits, while their confederates in Idaho snatched up 14,000 permits to hunt the long-tormented canids.
For its part, Wyoming has stubbornly held to a policy mandating that wolves be shot on sight anytime they wander outside Yellowstone, allegedly to safeguard range cattle (who are actually 147 times more likely to fall prey to intestinal parasites). Wolves have killed a grand total of only 26 cows (out of 1.3 million head of cattle in the state). Still, the livestock industry is in control of their wolf management decisions. Though hunters there have killed 74 wolves this season, as of March 1st the state of Wyoming has expanded and extended its season indefinitely, declaring an open, year-round hunt on them. Winter, spring and summertime hunts are particularly harsh since this is when wolves are denning and raising their newborn pups.
On the other side of Yellowstone, the disingenuously but suitably named “Idaho Anti-Wolf Coalition,” backed by a well-funded trophy elk hunting industry, filed and circulated an initiative petition in 2008 calling for the removal of “all” wolves there “by whatever means necessary.” Fortunately, even in the state famous for potatoes, militias and neo-Nazi compounds, they failed to gain enough public support to move forward with their avaricious initiative. Even so, the Idaho government has been quietly carrying out the “whatever means” approach by adding aerial hunting, trapping, snaring and baiting to their wolf devastation arsenal. In just one season, 169 wolves were killed by trophy hunters in Idaho, while trappers there claimed the lives of 76.
It should come as no great jolt that Idaho hunters felt they could get away with asking for the renewed obliteration of an entire species—their governor, “Butch” Otter, publicly proclaimed he hoped to be the first to shoot a wolf as soon as they lost federal ESA protection. Failing that, Otter used his gubernatorial powers to declare his state a “wolf disaster area,” granting local sheriffs’ departments the power to destroy packs whenever they please.
“Meanwhile,” according to Defenders of Wildlife’s president, Jamie Rappaport Clark, “the federal government is sitting idly by as Idaho almost singlehandedly unravels one of our nation’s greatest wildlife conservation success stories. This is totally unheard of—never before has a species climbed its way back from near extinction only to be quickly decimated once again.”
Montana started out seeming to be the sensible state, appearing almost tolerant of wolves. But between their state legislature and their wildlife policy makers, they’ve made an about face and quickly caught up with their neighbors, displaying a total disregard for the public trust doctrine which holds that wildlife, having no owners, are res communes, belonging “in common to all of the citizens.” They’ve recently passed bills barring any protected zones outside Yellowstone Park, while legalizing silencers for wolf hunting and the use of recorded calls to attract wolves, as well as allowing five wolf tags per hunter, 12 years and older. (And a new state bill is proposing lowering the legal age of hunters to nine years old.) Legislators also proposed a cap of 250 on their state wolf population. Last year’s wolf hunt kill totals for Montana were 128 wolves shot to death and 97 killed in traps.
Since Congress stripped wolves of their Endangered Species status, an estimated 1,084 wolves have been killed in the Northern Rockies. Again, that’s ONE THOUSAND AND EIGHTY-FOUR living, breathing, social, intelligent wolves killed by scornful, fearful, vengeful and boastful hunters and trappers, often in the most hideous ways imaginable.
Thanks to a federal judge’s 2010 decision, the wolf was granted a one-year stay of execution. But in 2011 our federal legislators on Capitol Hill attached a rider to a budget bill circumventing that judgment. This serpentine, backbiting end-run around science and public opinion played right into the hands of anti-wolf fanatics in Idaho and Montana and cleared the way for the bloodiest butchery of wolves in almost a century. Case in point: the opening week of Montana’s nascent hunting season on wolves saw sportsmen set up just outside the park boundary gun down every adult in Yellowstone’s well-known and much-loved Cottonwood pack, leaving their dependent pups to starve. In just two years nearly 1,100 wolves have been ruthlessly murdered by hunters and trappers eager to relive the gory glory days of the 1800s.
All this is going on in spite of well-documented proof that wolves are beneficial to a given environment, and despite the fact that the majority of Americans, including most visitors to Yellowstone and the tri-state area, want to see wildlife unmolested. They are not there to hunt—the money they spend reflects their strong interest in the quiet enjoyment of nature.
Biologists studying the Yellowstone ecosystem have found that since their reintroduction to the park, wolves have kept elk herds on the move, thus allowing over-browsed streamside riparian habitats to regenerate. Among the species that rely on a healthy riparian zone—and therefore benefit from the presence of wolves—are moose, trumpeter swans, warblers, wrens, thrushes, beavers, muskrats and the Yellowstone cutthroat trout. Everywhere they’re found, wolves play an important role in maintaining the health of ungulate herds by preying primarily on infirm or diseased animals, ensuring a healthy gene pool. And the remains of their kills provide a welcome relief for hungry scavengers, from bears to ermine to wolverines to bald eagles.
But rather than stepping back and allowing wolves to solve their elk “problem,” “game” “managers” want to reduce the number of both elk and wolves. Their policies are not scientific; they’re downright kill-happy. As the late Canadian naturalist and author, R D Lawrence, stated in his book, In the Presence of Wolves: “Killing for sport, for fur, or to increase a hunter’s success by slaughtering predators is totally abhorrent to me. I deem such behavior to be barbaric…”
The 1996 reintroduction of wolves to the northern Rocky Mountains in Yellowstone and wilderness areas of Central Idaho as mandated by the Endangered Species Act–along with protections against hunting and trapping all too briefly afforded them under the ESA–gave the wolf a temporary reprieve and allowed Nature to reign again over some of her sovereign lands.
Yes, wolves are spreading out, but that doesn’t necessarily mean there are more of them; each time they find a given habitat hostile to them, they continue to branch out in search of someplace safer and more hospitable. The total wolf population of the tri-state area has fluctuated, reaching a high of around 2000 individuals. An impressive figure perhaps, unless you consider that 1,089 were killed this year (not including those killed by federal “Wildlife Services” agents); or that 10,261 wolves were destroyed between 1884 and 1886 in Montana alone; or even that 380,000 wolves once roamed the country.
While all this is going on, the Great Lakes states have been racking up a high wolf body count of their own. Wisconsin in particular seems to be bucking for a most merciless award—the cruelties they’ve unleashed on wolves are the stuff of nightmares. And even states, such as South Dakota, that don’t even have wolf populations are hastily re-classifying wolves from the status of protected to “varmint,” in the event that any lost wolf happens by.
With the return of widespread wolf hunting, it will take today’s anti-wolf bigots only a few years to boot this misunderstood embodiment of wilderness back to the brink of oblivion.
This post includes excerpts from Exposing the Big Game: Living Targets of a Dying Sport.
There is no reason at all to hunt for elephants, and while they are docile animals they weigh a ton and can kill you quite easily, and a 46-year-old from Argentina learned that the hard way recently. Jose Monzalvez was tracking a herd of elephants in Namibia with another Argentine and three Namibians.
But Monzalvez and the other hunters got quite the surprise when one of the elephants charged before the group was able to find a spot to aim and shoot, crushing Monzalvez and killing him. Monzalvez was found with a hunting permit on his person by authorities.
Hunter Trampled To Death By Elephant He Was Trying To Kill
So once again it’s tough for us to feel bad for the person in this story — a person who decided to shoot an innocent animal, only to be killed by that very animal.
ECOWATCH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUTLORRAINE CHOW OF
Article reprinted with permission from EcoWatch
The animals — also known as “hoiho” in Māori — are known as the world’s rarest penguins and are only found in New Zealand.
Only 14 nests were found on the island compared to 24 last year, the survey from the Department of Conservation revealed. Since the island is predator-free with limited human access, terrestrial influences are unlikely to be the cause, the department pointed out.
Forest & Bird, a Wellington-based conservation nonprofit, is blaming the commercial fishing industry for the loss, suggesting that the animals were most likely caught and drowned in the nets of fishing trawlers.
“Unlike previous years where disease and high temperatures caused deaths on land, this year birds have disappeared at sea,” said Forest & Bird chief executive Kevin Hague in a statement. “There is an active set net fishery within the penguins’ Whenua Hou foraging ground, and the indications are that nearly half the Whenua Hou hoiho population has been drowned in one or more of these nets.”
Only three percent of the commercial trawlers had official observers onboard to report penguin deaths. Incidentally, Forest & Bird noted that all the recorded deaths came from the small percentage of boats that did have observers.
“It’s simply unbelievable that almost every penguin killed in the set net fishery was killed on a boat that had an official observer onboard,” Hague said. “As a first step, [the Ministry of Primary Industries, which oversees the fishing industry] needs to get more of their observers onto set net vessels and prioritize putting cameras on set netting boats.”
“Responsible set netters need to ask the question of their fellow fishers — why is it that the only recorded by-kill of penguins appears to be on monitored fishing vessels?” he asked.
The environmental group is urging government action and for the fishing industry to agree an immediate set of actions to eliminate the risks from set netting in the penguins’ feeding areas.
“We are asking [the Department of Conservation] and [the Ministry of Primary Industries] what they intend to do to save our hoiho from extinction, because at current rates of decline we are on track to lose hoiho completely from mainland New Zealand. We have also written to the Minister of Conservation, expressing our concern,” Hague said.
“This bird is so special that it appears on New Zealand’s five dollar note,” Hague said. “The critical information about the Whenua Hou catastrophe should not have been held back from the public. Instead we need honest conversation with New Zealanders spelling out the actions that will be taken to prevent it happening again.”
The yellow-eyed penguin is not faring any better elsewhere in the country. According to the Guardian, there are just 1,600 to 1,800 of these penguins left in the wild, down from nearly 7,000 in 2000. They face wide-ranging threats from climate change to disease.
“While nest numbers are similar to last year from Dunedin northwards, there are declines further south,” said Department of Conservation Threatened Species ambassador Nicola Toki. “The estimate for the total southern east coast based on current counts is around 250 nests, down from 261 a year ago. This number is of concern given historically there were between 400-600 breeding pairs and the current number is the lowest for 27 years.”
The WWF’s suit against the Norwegian state asked the court to examine Norwegian laws on control of wolf populations, and to suspend hunting in the counties of Østfold, Oslo, Akershus and Hedmark, while investigations take place, reports news agency NTB.
Oslo District Court announced its decision on Tuesday.
The decision will be put into effect immediately, Christian Hillmann, advisor for the Rovviltnemnda (Wolf Advisory Board) in the relevant region, told NTB.
WWF environmental policy department leader Ingrid Lomelde told the agency that the organisation was now looking forward to further examination of the issue by the court.
“Oslo District Court has taken an important decision by stopping the ongoing wolf hunt. We are now looking forward to the case going to court, where judges will decide whether Norwegian wolf administration is in breach of Norwegian law and international obligations,” Lomelde said.
The court itself stressed that suspension of hunting remains temporary for the time being.
Five animals have been shot since the beginning of the season in the four counties in areas outside of zones in which wolves are protected by law (ulvesonen in Norwegian), NTB reports.
WWF’s case is based on its argument that the animal is completely protected and on Norway’s own list of ‘critically endangered’ species, the agency reported as the trial began last week.
The Norwegian state is supported in the trial by the Norwegian Agrarian Association (Norges Bondelag), which has argued that halting wolf hunting would have adverse effects on food production.
The Norwegian Forest Owners Association (Skogeierforbundet) and Association of Hunters and Fishers (Norges Jeger- og Fiskerforbund) also supports the state in the case.
A rebound in marine mammal populations on the West Coast has come with unintended consequences for salmon.
A new study found that a growing population of fish-eating killer whales, sea lions and harbor seals on the West Coast have feasted heavily on Chinook salmon runs in the last 40 years.
Their consumption of the fish — of which certain populations are listed as endangered and threatened — may now exceed the combined harvest by commercial and recreational fisheries, researchers say.
It’s a complex trade-off, fishery managers say. And many questions remain about what a growing predator population means for the fish and why, despite the feeding frenzy, the Southern Resident Killer Whale group in Washington state’s Puget Sound area continues to show few signs of recovery.
The study was a broad but “careful accounting exercise,” a first attempt to quantify marine mammal predation of Chinook salmon on the U.S. West Coast and up into British Columbia, Canada and Southeastern Alaska, said co-author Isaac Kaplan of the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center.
“The main story here is there are a lot of factors affecting salmon,” Kaplan said. “Those include dams and habitat (loss) and fishing and marine mammals. We know all of these things are a challenge to recovery for Chinook salmon populations.”
The researchers — a collaboration of federal, state and tribal scientists in the Pacific Northwest — used models to estimate that the yearly biomass of Chinook salmon consumed by sea lions, harbor seals and killer whales increased from 6,100 to 15,200 metric tons from 1975 to 2015, even while annual harvest by fisheries decreased from 16,400 to 9,600 metric tons.
While recovery efforts on the West Coast have boosted the numbers of wild salmon, researchers found the increased predation could be taking a toll and “masking the success of coast-wide recovery efforts.”
“We’re trying to understand all the threats that salmon face throughout their range,” said Eric Ward, a co-author and statistician (biology) with NOAA. “These fish have huge migrations. Fish from the Salish Sea or the Oregon Coast and Washington Coast migrate all the way up to Alaska and throughout that whole range they are vulnerable to predation.”
The study purposefully focused on predation by certain recovering marine mammal populations, said study lead Brandon Chasco, an Oregon State University post-doctoral student.
The study confirmed what communities near the mouth of the Columbia River already know — seals and sea lions eat a lot of salmon. The researchers estimated that California sea lions ate 46,000 adult Chinook salmon in 2015, while Stellar sea lions consumed 47,000. Harbor seals ate considerably less, an estimated 1,000 adult Chinook salmon.
“What we don’t know is if these marine mammals are effective and if they’ve taken the fish out of the mouths of other predators,” Chasco said. “Or, if it’s being stacked on top of bird consumption, stacked on top of fish consumption and the density of salmon overall is lower.”
“We just don’t know that yet,” he added, “and I don’t know when we’re going to know that.”
The question of what it all means for Southern Resident killer whales whose population numbers remain low is another gap, said Michael Ford, director of NOAA’s Conservation Biology Division and a co-author of the study. Are they being out-competed? What other stressors are at play?
But, he said, “I think there’s a lot of good news here.”
The recovery of marine mammal populations points toward the success of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, he said. The fact that these animals are eating so many salmon shows fishery managers have been successful at keeping Pacific salmon available — to some extent — to feed a growing number of predators.
Ford and others are in the middle of another study that would actually count how many salmon killer whales are eating over a certain period of time, moving beyond the theories proposed in the recent predation study. They hope to be able to make more direct comparisons between the healthy northern killer whale groups and the less-healthy southern killer whales.