KILLER WHALES, WHALING, AND SEQUENTIAL MEGAFAUNAL COLLAPSE IN THE NORTH PACIFIC: A COMPARATIVE ANALYSIS OF THE DYNAMICS OF MARINE MAMMALS IN ALASKA AND BRITISH COLUMBIA FOLLOWING COMMERCIAL WHALING

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Abstract

The hypothesis that commercial whaling caused a sequential megafaunal collapse in the North Pacific Ocean by forcing killer whales to eat progressively smaller species of marine mammals is not supported by what is known about the biology of large whales, the ecology of killer whales, and the patterns of ecosystem change that took place in Alaska, British Columbia, and elsewhere in the world following whaling. A comparative analysis shows that populations of seals, sea lions, and sea otters increased in British Columbia following commercial whaling, unlike the declines noted in the Gulf of Alaska and Aleutian Islands. The declines of seals and sea lions that began in western Alaska around 1977 were mirrored by increases in numbers of these species in British Columbia. A more likely explanation is that the seal and sea lion declines and other ecosystem changes in Alaska stem from a major oceanic regime shift that occurred in 1977. Killer whales are unquestionably a significant predator of seals, sea lions, and sea otters—but not because of commercial whaling.

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