Northern Fur Seal population decline to be explored
VANCOUVER, Dec. 10 /CNW/ - The University of British Columbia Marine
Mammal Research Unit (UBC MMRU), in collaboration with the Vancouver Aquarium,
announce the Northern Fur Seal Research Program.
UBC's MMRU and the Vancouver Aquarium have worked together since 1993 to
understand the population decline of Steller sea lions. This partnership and
research program has created a world centre of excellence for laboratory-based
studies of marine mammals. The success of the sea lion research program has
led to the creation of the Northern Fur Seal Research Program which seeks to
determine why fur seal populations are declining in the North Pacific.
Six female fur seal pups have joined the Steller sea lions at the
Vancouver Aquarium for this important research program. Researchers
transferred the animals on a flight by Pen Air from the Pribilof Islands in
the Bering Sea to Vancouver, British Columbia.
The pups will participate in long-term physiological studies critical to
understanding their decline in the wild. Since the mid-1950's, they have
declined by over 75% and continue at approximately 6% per year, but the
reason(s) for this are unknown.
"We know their numbers are getting smaller, but we don't have the data to
determine why. Is their decline related to nutrition or is it associated with
changes in the north Pacific as the oceans have become warmer?" asks Dr.
Andrew W. Trites, Director of UBC's marine Mammal Research Unit. "We believe
the six fur seal pups may hold the key to unlocking this ecological mystery.
The pups are vital to the conservation of fur seals and will participate in
studies that can only be accomplished with trained animals in a controlled
Most northern fur seals migrate and feed through Canadian waters. The six
female pups at the Vancouver Aquarium receive the highest-standards of
veterinary care, husbandry and support.
"All six pups have acclimated very well to their new surroundings," notes
Vancouver Aquarium Staff Veterinarian, Marty Haulena. "They are active,
grooming and interacting well with our researchers and marine mammal husbandry
staff. Everyone is excited for this unique opportunity to work so closely with
such a rare and beautiful species."
The Vancouver Aquarium's commitment to conservation-based research and
education initiatives will offer school children in the Pribilof Islands the
opportunity to work closely with researchers to study science and follow the
progress of the pups. HD video footage of the Northern Fur Seals is now online
for viewing on the Vancouver Aquarium's YouTube channel at
NOTE TO EDITORS:
Media is welcome at the Vancouver Aquarium at 9 A.M. (PST), Thursday,
December 11, 2008 for an opportunity to view the Northern fur seal and obtain
still and/or video footage. Also, interviews will be available with:Dr. Andrew Trites, Research Director, UBC Marine Mammal Research Unit
Dr. Martin Haulena, Staff Veterinarian, Vancouver Aquarium
Dr. John Nightingale, President, Vancouver AquariumIf you plan to attend, please arrive by 8:50 a.m. at the Aquaquest
entrance of the Vancouver Aquarium (approx. 60m north of main public entrance)
About the University of British Columbia Marine Mammal Research Unit:
The unit's goals are to address questions relevant to interactions
between humans and marine mammals; marine mammals as indicators of ecosystem
change; the natural history, biology and conservation of marine mammals.
Please visit http://www.marinemammal.org/MMRU to learn more about the UBC
About the Vancouver Aquarium:
The Vancouver Aquarium is a self-supporting, non-profit association
dedicated to effecting the conservation of aquatic life through display and
interpretation, conservation practices, education, research, and direct
action. Please visit www.vanaqua.org to learn more about the Vancouver
Aquarium.Northern Fur Seal - Steller Sea Lion Research ProgramIn 1993, researchers from the University of British Columbia initiated a
Steller sea lion research program with the Vancouver Aquarium in response to a
dramatic decline of sea lions in Alaska and Russia.
Data that could not be obtained from the wild were urgently needed to
solve the mysterious disappearance of sea lions - but facilities and
researchers capable of undertaking the needed research were not in place at
that time. Thus began a partnership and research program that has matured over
the past 15 years to become a world center of excellence for laboratory-based
studies of marine mammals.
Working with trained sea lions at the Vancouver Aquarium and at the Open
Water Research Station in Port Moody, researchers have tested the leading
hypotheses for the sea lion population decline, and have developed new methods
to study sea lions in the wild. They have tested the "junk-food" hypothesis
and shown that young sea lions cannot survive on diets dominated by low energy
fish such as cod or pollock. They have also disproven the theory that a shift
in the depth distribution of prey has made it more difficult for sea lions to
capture prey - and they have developed techniques to assess the health of sea
lions in the wild and new methods to determine what they eat.
The success of the sea lion research program resulted in the University
of British Columbia and Vancouver Aquarium receiving a grant from the Canadian
Foundation for the Innovation of Science, and from the BC Knowledge
Development Fund, to expand the research program and facilities to establish
the Marine Mammal Species at Risk Research Laboratory. This new laboratory
allows researchers to establish the energy requirements of marine mammals that
are at risk and assess the health consequences of changes in diet or
environmental conditions (global warming).
The Marine Mammal Species at Risk Research Laboratory has recently begun
working on another ecological mystery - the decline of northern fur seals. Six
female fur seal pups have joined the Steller sea lions to assist researchers
in determining how much food wild fur seals need and whether there are times
of the year that are more critical than others. They are also helping to
assess whether the fur seal decline is related to a warming of the oceans.
The research being undertaken at the Marine Mammal Species at Risk
Research Laboratory is important for the conservation of marine mammals and
cannot be undertaken in the wild. Research findings are disseminated through
public and scientific presentations, internet postings, and publication in
leading peer-reviewed scientific journals. The timely discovery of new
information at the Species at Risk Laboratory is filling huge gaps in our
understanding of marine mammals and is helping to ensure that future decisions
about how we manage and care for marine ecosystems and the species that depend
on them are based on sound scientific data.North Pacific Universities Marine Mammal Research ConsortiumMembers of the North Pacific Universities Marine Mammal Research
Consortium study the relationships between fisheries and marine mammals in the
Eastern Pacific Ocean and Bering Sea, ecosystems that have experienced
wide-scale changes in recent decades.
Founded in 1993 in response to declines in some Alaskan populations of
Steller sea lions, fur seals, harbor seals, and sea birds, the Consortium has
become a leading source of scientific information on the ecology and biology
of marine mammals on the west coast of North America. It conducts studies
throughout the North Pacific region, from the Pribilof Islands of the Bering
Sea to the Oregon coast, and is involved in ground-breaking energetics and
behavioural research on sea lions and northern fur seals in the care of the
Vancouver Aquarium. Studies of seals and sea lions at the Vancouver Aquarium
is a core element of the Consortium's research program and provides critical
data needed for the conservation of marine mammals that cannot be obtained
from the wild.
Research findings are published in scientific peer reviewed journals. To
date, Consortium researchers have published over 150 scientific papers.
The Consortium is composed of four institutions: Oregon State University,
the Universities of Washington, Alaska and British Columbia. Together, they
draw on the expertise and talents of physiologists, ecologists, marine
mammalogists, fisheries specialists and oceanographers. Members are committed
to an integrated long-term research program exploring the causes of changes in
the North Pacific ecosystem.The current research program includes:
- Developing techniques to reconstruct diets from DNA and fish bones
found in scats, and to assess nutritional stress from the
concentration of stress hormones found in scats
- Collecting physiological data and developing mathematical models to
estimate the energy requirements of northern fur seals and Steller
- Determining what sea lions and fur seals eat in British Columbia and
- Determining the energetic costs of swimming and foraging with trained
sea lions at the Open Water Research Station in Port Moody
- Comparing trends in commercial fisheries catches and feeding habits
of sea lions and fur seals
- Computational simulations of Northeast Pacific ecosystemsFunding for Consortium research is from the US National Marine Fisheries
Service and the North Pacific Marine Science Foundation, a non-profit
organization. Researchers also work closely with researchers from the
Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service, the
Alaska Department of Fish and Game, and the Vancouver Aquarium.For more information, contact Dr. Andrew Trites (Research Director,
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