SEASONAL DISTRIBUTION OF STELLER'S SEA LIONS AT ROOKERIES AND HAUL-OUT SITES IN ALASKA

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Abstract

The Steller's sea lion population has declined by 60%-70% over much of Alaska since the late 1970s. Overlap in species composition and sizes of fishes consumed by sea lions and harvested by commercial fisheries, particularly during winter, has led to examination of potential interaction between commercial fisheries and Steller's sea lions. Abundance and distribution data for Steller's sea lions in Alaska were derived from aerial surveys conducted during the breeding season, mid-June to early July 1992, 1994, and 1996. To study winter distribution of sea lions, we conducted aerial surveys during March 1993, November-December 1994, and March 1999. We counted about one-half as many sea lions during winter surveys compared to the breeding-season surveys. Numbers of sea lions at rookery sites dropped off considerably during winter, whereas numbers at haul-out sites did not. We found little evidence of large-scale, seasonal movement, at least for the western stock of sea lions. Rather, differences between summer and winter distribution were primarily a function of sea lions dispersing to local haul-out sites during the winter. Terrestrial sites, both rookeries and haul-outs, clearly are important to Steller's sea lions during the entire year. Individual sites may be occupied year-round or only during particular times of year.

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