Wildlife of the Bering Sea


This video from Canada is called Bowhead Whales in Kugaaruk.

From National Wildlife Magazine in the USA:

QUICK: WHAT DO YOU KNOW about the Bering Sea, that patch of blue on the map to the west of Alaska?

Your answer could be that an astounding half of the U.S. seafood catch comes from the region—including 2.5 billion pounds of walleye pollock turned every year into imitation crabmeat, fish sticks and fast-food fish filets. Or maybe you know that Yup’ik, Inupiat and Aleut people have lived off the Bering Sea’s bounty for thousands of years. Or that ever since Russians happened upon the region’s Pribilof Islands in the 1700s, human beings have been altering its rich ecosystem. …

The exploitation began in the Pribilof Islands, which are critical breeding and staging areas 300 miles from the mainland. First Russians “ravaged the place,” says Springer, almost eliminating the islands’ fur seals and killing off entirely the local walrus and sea otter populations. In the mid-1800s, U.S. whalers took a huge toll on bowhead and right whales, and in the mid-1900s, several countries did large-scale, uncontrolled commercial fishing as well as additional whaling. In the Aleutian Islands, both the Steller’s sea cow and Steller’s spectacled cormorant were hunted to extinction.

Though the region’s fisheries are now intensively managed, and the hunting of birds and marine mammals is regulated, many species have decreased in number over the past quarter century. They include the spectacled eider and Alaska’s breeding populations of Steller’s eiders, both federally listed as threatened. Populations of Steller’s sea lions [see also here and here]—now listed as endangered in the western part of their range—harbor and fur seals, sea otters, ocean perch and several species of crab have declined, some dramatically. The reasons, elusive and controversial, could include the impacts of commercial fishing in addition to the long-term effects of whaling and natural shifts in ocean temperatures.

Whaling scene found in 3,000-year-old picture, here.

Cute But Deadly: Steller Sea Lions: here.

A new study suggests that the impact of predation on juvenile Steller sea lions in the Gulf of Alaska has been significantly underestimated, creating a “productivity pit” from which their population will have difficulty recovering without a reduction of predators: here.

Female Steller sea lions tend to breed near their birthplace. Familiarity with other females, geography may be crucial for reproduction: here.

8 thoughts on “Wildlife of the Bering Sea

  1. Sea Lions Decline In Alaska Waters
    Already Distressed Numbers Slipping Further In Some Areas Of The Western Aleutians

    ANCHORAGE, Alaska, Nov. 20, 2008

    This 2004 photo shows a bull Steller sea lion and juveniles watching from Sea Lion Rocks, one of the Shumagin Islands south of the Alaska Peninsula, near Sand Point, Alaska. (AP/Cathy Hegwer, A.E.B.)

    (AP) Steller sea lions in far western Alaska continue to do a disappearing act with already distressed numbers slipping further in some areas, according to a federal survey.

    “Clearly we are seeing steep declines still way out west in the western Aleutians,” said Lowell Fritz, a biologist at the National Marine Mammal Laboratory in Seattle.

    For instance, only 43 sea lions were counted this summer at Buldir Island at the end of the Aleutians, half the number of four years ago. In the 1980s, thousands were spotted, he said.

    Fritz said Wednesday the western population stretching from Yakutat to the far western Aleutian Islands is “hanging in.”

    “We have not seen a total blinking out of an area yet,” Fritz said.

    The National Marine Fisheries Service conducted its aerial survey – the first complete survey since 2004 – over a two-day period in June when adult and juvenile sea lions are most likely to be onshore to give birth and breed.

    The survey found that Steller sea lion numbers in the western population are either stable or declining slightly. The eastern population continues to increase.

    The survey found the biggest declines were in the central and western Aleutians, where populations declined 30 percent and 16 percent respectively. The western population is now thought to be about 45,000, down from perhaps 250,000 in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The population was listed as endangered in 1997.

    The eastern population, which extends from Alaska’s Cape Saint Elias into California, now stands at between 45,000 and 51,000 animals. The population was declared threatened in 1990. It has more than doubled.

    Most of the world’s sea lions live along Alaska’s vast coastline. There are believed to be about 16,000 across the Bering Sea off Russia’s coast.

    About $160 million has been spent on Steller sea lion research in recent years with the goal of stopping the declines. While scientists do not know why sea lions in some areas of Alaska are in trouble, certain things have become less plausible, Fritz said. Those things include killer whale predation, disease and contaminants, he said.

    What scientists have determined is that the number of sea lions being born appears to be down. “Something is preventing them from getting born,” he said.

    Scientists are looking closely at nutrition as a factor to determine if females are getting enough food to give birth and nurse a pup from the previous year.

    Global warming and more short-term changes in the Bering Sea also could be factors, he said.

    Dave Benton, executive director of the Marine Conservation Alliance, a coalition of commercial fishing groups, said it is important to note that since 2004 there was a 7 percent increase in sea lions in the eastern Aleutians, the area where most of the commercial fishing takes place.

    Despite no-fishing zones around rookeries and haul-outs, Benton said sea lion numbers continue to decline in the central and western Aleutians.

    “We need continued scientific research to determine those factors and help rebuild these stocks,” Benton said.

    Fritz said scientists are assessing the impacts of commercial fishing on sea lions, which he said remains a potential high threat to the animals. A biological opinion is due next year.

    For more information visit the Stellar sea lions page on the NOAA Web site.

    By Associated Press Writer Mary Pemberton
    © MMVIII The Associated Press.

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  2. The walrus typically spends much of its time resting on sea ice. But, as global warming melts its icy habitat, it has no place else to go but to land. It’s not uncommon for walruses to gather on shore in the fall months, but they are currently gathering in alarmingly large numbers and arriving much earlier than in previous years.

    In fact, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently reported that 131 walruses, mostly calves and yearlings, were trampled to death in Alaska by
    other walruses. This is a clear and urgent signal that
    the sea ice is nowhere to be found.

    Walruses

    On land, the situation continues to be deadly,
    particularly for young pups that could easily be
    crushed. The more than 3,500 animals crowded
    together in one area in Alaska could lead to additional
    stampedes and deaths. What’s more, these walruses
    face nutritional and physical stress since they have to
    work twice as hard to obtain food. Instead of diving off
    the ice down to the sea floor where they feed, they now
    have to swim long distances from the shore to and from
    their feeding grounds.
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    In fact, the situation is so dire that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is
    considering adding the walrus to the Endangered Species List due to habitat
    loss from global warming.

    You can fight global warming and help protect walruses and all of our nation’s
    wildlife with your donation to National Wildlife Federation today.

    The walruses are gathering in Alaska right now. There is no time to waste, they
    need your help today.

    © 2009 National Wildlife Federation. All rights reserved.

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