Seals, sea otters, sea lions

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, Jan/Feb 1997:

Junior home office minister Tom Sackville told
the British House of Commons on November 30 that grey
seals and common seals along the eastern coast of Britain
from New Haven, East Sussex to the Scots border will
receive another three years of protection from any form of
killing, injuring, or capturing, following the December 19
expiry of the latest in a series of three-year protective orders
first issued in 1988. An outbreak of a disease believed to be
closely related to canine distemper cut the eastern coast seal
population from 3,900 in early 1988 to 1,551 by 1991. Since
then, seal numbers are up to 2,758, but that’s still just 70% of
the count formerly sustained.

Scots fishers represented by the Western Isles
Fishermen’s Association on December 12 demanded authorization
to kill up to 15,000 of the 30,000 grey seals they
claim are harming fish stocks among the western outer
islands. Countered Frank Strudwick of the Seal Preservation
Action group, “Beyond the actual breeding season, most grey
seals are well out at sea. The scientific evidence is that they
cause little damage to commercial fish stocks.”
Maciej Nowicki, director of Ekofund Poland, on
October 30 announced a $1.6 million program to restore the
grey seal population of the Bay of Gdansk via captive breeding
and release. Since this has never been done before,
nobody really knows if it will work. There are currently perhaps
two or three dozen seals in the Bay of Gdansk, down
from as many as 10,000 circa 1900.
Cape Nature Conservation ornithologist Tony
Williams on December 8 announced the hiring of a marksman
to shoot from 20 to 40 fur seals a year from among the estimated
70,000 who inhabit Dyer Island, near Gansbaai, South
Africa. “Seals are taking off about 8% of the adult Dyer
Island penguins every year,” he said. “The African penguin
is highly threatened, and in danger of extinction. If we don’t
do something, we’re going to lose the penguin population on
Dyer Island completely.” Only seals known to have learned
to prey upon penguins will be shot, Williams said, concluding,
“The Sea Fisheries Research Institute will be involved,
and the SPCA will be invited to inspect the culling operation.”
The California sea otter count is down 8% from
the spring 1995 recent peak of 2,377, reached in 1981. “If we
get another low count next fall, it would be cause for concern,”
said Brian Hatfield, who coordinates the counting for
the biological resources division of the U.S. Geological
Survey. Once believed to have been hunted to extinction, a
remnant population of California sea otters was discovered in
1933, and received threatened species status in 1977. Twiceyearly
counts commenced in 1982, with the population at
1,350. Annual losses have been as high as 9.6%; gains have
run as high as 15.7%.
The New Zealand Ministry of Fisheries o n
November 26 recalled the national squid fleet early, after the
estimated 50 vessels caught at least 63 hooker’s sea lions––the
most they are allowed to catch––by accident. In 1995, the
fleet killed 109 sea lions, and would have been recalled early
had the carnage been known. Numbering 11,000 to 15,000
living individuals, hookers’ sea lions are believed to be the
third-rarest type. On December 11, New Zealand
Department of Conservation hooker’s sea lion expert Nick
Gales announced that in February his staff will strap cameras
to female hooker’s sea lions, then try to track them. “What
we need to know,” he said, “is how they search for prey,
what they catch, and the frequency they catch it.”

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