Steller Sea Lions: Still Declining and We Don't Know Why
Steller sea lions are distributed around the North Pacific from northern Japan, along the Bering Sea coast of Russia and Alaska, along the Gulf of Alaska and down to southeast Alaska. Recent genetic analysis has established that there are two groups of Stellers, the eastern stock and the western stock, which although they do not interbreed, have not yet become separate species.
Since the 1970s the western stock has declined by about 80 percent and we don't know why. When the Steller sea lion was given protection under the Endangered Species Act, there was controversy because of the potentially large economic losses for the fishing industry. The decline of the Stellers coincided with the onset of some large commercial fisheries in their range, and competition for food between Stellers and fishermen was a plausible reason for their decline. The connection between fisheries and Stellers is not a simple one, but until fisheries are exonerated they have to be managed as if there were competition. We spoke with Douglas Demaster about Steller sea lion natural history and conservation.