Friday, June 11, 2010

Steller's Sea-lion

Our party spent about six hours today exploring remote, rocky shorelines of Resurrection Bay and vicinity, near Seward, Alaska. Our vessel was the Orca Explorer, a catamaran craft well-suited to these sometimes ice-choked chilly waters. The rocky coasts teem with animal life: we saw thousands of Horned and Tufted Puffins, Black-legged Kittiwakes, Common Murres, some Thick-billed Murres, Rhinoceros Auklets, Marbled Murrelets, Pigeon Guillemots, Black Oystercatchers, and much more.

But for many people, it was the mammals that trumped all. We had great looks at Humpback Whale, Orca, Dall's Porpoise, Harbor Seal, Black Bear, Mountain Goat, and more.

A meeting of gregarious Steller's Sea-lions, hauled out on a rocky shore. These massive beasts are quite social, and often gather by the dozens. Males - bulls - can be enormous, with exceptional whoppers tipping the scales at 2,200 pounds and stretching the tape to 11 feet.

We observed several gatherings of Steller's Sea-lions; this group contains some young pups. Rather cute, but it would be a mistake to try and pet one. The adults are ill-tempered and intimidating - not animals to be trifled with. Males are much larger than females, and this group appears to contain several young. A couple of these sea-lions have identification numbers emblazoned upon them; there are numerous active research projects ongoing.

Steller's Sea-lions have declined by as much as 80% from historical high populations. Much of that was due to over-harvesting, a situation that has been dealt with. Yet, populations have not rebounded well, and the reasons are not fully understood. This animal and nearly all other marine mammals - not too mention birds and many other species - are extremely vulnerable to oil spills. The absolute unmitigated BP-caused catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico should teach us all a lesson about the fragility of marine life.

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