REDUCED BODY SIZE OF FEMALE STELLER SEA LIONS FROM A DECLINING POPULATION IN THE GULF OF ALASKA

Authors


Abstract

Nutritional stress is a leading hypothesis behind the decline in numbers of Steller sea lions in the Gulf of Alaska, the Aleutian Islands, and the Bering Sea. To evaluate this hypothesis we compared body growth of female Steller sea lions 1.0–13.9 yr of age collected in the Gulf of Alaska during two time periods, 1975–1978 just prior to or early in the decline and 1985–1986 when the decline was well established. We found that growth, as measured by standard length, axillary girth, and mass, was reduced during the 1980s, supporting the undernutrition hypothesis. We also found a suggestion of reduced growth in our 1970s and 1980s samples when compared to a collection of Steller sea lions obtained from the Gulf of Alaska in 1958. However, no direct link has been demonstrated between undernutrition and the actual decline in numbers.

Ancillary