Sunday, January 16, 2011

Sealions and Other Unpleasant Things

Living in Alaska provides me with opportunities to view wildlife that most people will never get a chance to see. I frequently spot Sitka Blacktail Deer or Brown Bears when I'm out on the boat. Over on the mainland when I'm fishing at Homeshore or Excursion Inlet I've seen several Black Bears and once I saw a moose on the beach. I've come across rafts of Sea Otters with forty or more bunched together at Idaho Inlet and it's not at all uncommon to spot multitudes of Humpback Whales in the tide rips of Point Adolphus. All of these animals congregate in these areas because a ready food source. This past summer a number of the local fishermen were complaining about the number of fish they had lost to sealions. One fellow said he had lost twenty cohos to them in one day. It's a devistating loss. The sealions have a habit of getting behind a boat and following it and as soon as a fish bites they dive and pull it off the line, frequently taking expensive gear with them. Over the course of the past twenty years they have been protected by the federal government. Like many things the feds undertake, their intentions may start off well, but once the cogs of bureaucracy are underway, there's no turning back,regardless of how the situation may change or what the unintended consequences are. As I think I mentioned before, the local natives never allowed any sealions to enter through the passes at Inian Islands into Icy Straits. They knew all too well the havoc that they reek on the fish populations. Now though, they are protected, and as could be expected, the number of sealions has exploded, and of course they have to eat, which they do- to the tune of several hundred pounds of fish a day. If you consider that the average weight of one coho would be seven pounds, that would mean that one large sealion would have to the potential to eat twenty eight cohos a day. Multiply that by the hundreds of sealions that are now residing at the entrance of Cross Sound and the numbers are staggering. Of course if left unchecked, they will eventually populate until they can no longer sustain their numbers and there will be a massive die off. If history is any example, what will most probably happen is that the commercial fishing fleet will be blamed for their demise and the well meaning bureaucrats will restrict the fishermen to the point that they can no longer make a living. It's happening now out in Western Alaska to the trawl fleet. When you can no longer buy a Fillet of Fish sandwich at Mc Donalds or pick up some Mrs Paul's fishsticks at your local grocer's or have an inexpensive family dinner at Long John Silvers, then I hope that people will realize that these regulations that no one thinks about impacting them directly, really do. While there needs to be a balance in nature, because of impractical regulations, nature is out of balance. To the best of my knowledge, sealions serve no practical purpose. I'm not advocating going out and having a slaughter of them, but I think it's high time they stop being protected by the federal government. I spoke to some of my Tlingit neighbors the other day and asked if their ancestors had any use for sealions. One person said that the hide would sometimes be worn as a vest if they went in to battle. The only other use that anyone knew of was the whiskers were sometimes collected for ceremonial masks. The meat isn't eaten and the hide has no commercial value. They are basically vicious fish eating machines. Anyone who has ever observed a sealion with a fish would understand what I'm talking about. When they catch a fish, they surface and grab it by the head and jerk their neck so violently that the fish separates and flies off. They swallow the piece whole and swim after the rest. This happens dozens of times a day and it's distressing to watch.
I took these pictures while I was on a walk to the cannery last month. I had noticed a number of seagulls right against the beach and thought it was strange. A few minutes later three sealions showed up and the show began. They were apparently feeding on herring or some other forage fish. After five minutes or so I got tired of watching them and left. I was reminded of a few years ago when several sealions showed up in the harbor. One of them was huge. One of the tour buses had just dislodged a number of Oriental tourists at the harbor who were fascinated by the two sealions. Most of them were taking pictures when the big bull took an enormous crap. I could hear the tourists shouting and saw them pointing and taking more pictures. I would hate to think the highlight of their Alaskan tour was watching a sealion relieve himself.

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