Marine mammal culling programs: review of effects on predator and prey populations
- Culling is widely practised as a means to reduce predation effects of terrestrial carnivores, birds and marine mammals in many parts of the world. Of marine mammals, coastal pinniped species have usually been the target of culling programs, but dolphins and a large odontocete have also been culled.
- We reviewed the published literature on marine mammal culling programs to evaluate the extent of their efficacy as a fisheries management measure.
- Changes in species' distributions and abundance demonstrate that culling programs can be very effective at reducing predator density.
- Several conclusions from experimental studies of terrestrial mammals and birds may also apply to marine mammal control. Firstly, predator removal generally increases productivity and population size of target prey populations, but not always. Secondly, culling programs typically involve a large proportional reduction (>50%) in predator populations.
- Thirdly, the effects of culling are typically dependent on continued control, and in the absence of control the population rapidly returns to pre-culling density. This underscores the need for predator removal to be a long-term management strategy. Fourthly, culling predators often has non-intuitive and unintended consequences for target species and for other predator and prey species.
- Marine mammal culling programs rarely have measurable objectives with respect to prey populations, and their success has not been evaluated. Culling marine mammals is controversial because of the following: (i) they are high-profile charismatic megafauna; (ii) many populations are recovering from a period of over-exploitation while others remain threatened or endangered; and (iii) the scientific evidence needed to justify a cull is usually highly uncertain.
- Marine mammal culling programs should be based on scientific analysis with stated and measurable objectives to be evaluated during planned follow-up monitoring.