[WILD_SEAS] ORCA & OTTER ?

From: wildnet@ecoterra.net
Date: Sun Jul 16 2000 - 06:49:51 EDT


>From the land of the Innu, plundered by Russians and other Europeans,
some of whom called themselves later Americans, which is today still
under US occupation!
---- see comment at the end--

FEATURE - Orca whales blamed for Aleutian sea otter decline
USA : July 14, 2000

ANCHORAGE - Sea otters, the cuddly animals beloved by tourists but
hunted nearly to extinction by Russian and American fur traders
centuries ago, are again vanishing from Alaska’s Aleutian islands.

This time the culprit appears to be orca whales, which have begun eating
otters, a radical change in their diet. Orcas were first spotted chasing
down and killing otters in the early 1990s, said Jim Estes, a biologist
with the U.S. Geological Survey in Santa Cruz, California, who has seen
the attacks.

The discovery was surprising. “There really is no indication that orcas
had paid much attention to otters, or attention to them as a prey
species, until the 1990s,” said Estes, who has studied otters for three
decades.
Otters, which swim and float near the shoreline, have no natural
defences against orcas and have so far developed no behavioural
responses to the whales, Estes said, adding that this is a sign otters
are not a usual part of the whales’ diet. “Normally, when one species is
eaten by another they create a defence mechanism,” he said.
The orca predation has apparently taken a heavy toll. In the Aleutians,
an island chain that arcs over 1,000 miles (1,600 km) west toward Asia,
sea otter numbers have dropped 70 percent since 1992 and at least 95
percent since the 1980s in some areas of the archipelago, the U.S. Fish
and Wildlife Service says.
Last month the agency released results of its most recent survey,
completed in April, which puts the Aleutian population at 6,000 otters,
down from a 1980s estimate of 55,000-100,000.

EXPLAINING MASS DIE-OFF

There are no masses of sea otter carcasses floating in the water or
washed up on the beaches, so other explanations for the mass die-off
such as pollution, disease or commercial fishermen are considered
unlikely, Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Douglas Burn said. “We’re
not seeing sea otters tangled in fishing gear. We don’t think it’s
competition for food,” he said.
Scientists theorise that orcas have turned to otters as food because
their normal prey - sea lions and fur seals - are in short supply.
Western Alaska’s population of Steller sea lions has dropped more than
80 percent since the 1970s, and the 20,000 animals that remain are
classified as endangered. Fur seals, which have declined less
dramatically, are classified as depleted. Experts are divided about the
cause. Some blame a massive ecological shift in the North Pacific and
Bering Sea from oily fish such as capelin and herring to low-oil
pollock.
Others blame giant commercial trawling ships that operate there, saying
commercial fishing is indirectly responsible for the sea otter decline.
But Estes cautions that there is no clear evidence linking the
commercial harvests to the otters’ plight.
Aleutian waters were teeming with otters at the time of the first
European contact. When Vitus Bering and his crew sailed to Alaska for
the Russian Czar in 1741, they were charmed by this “extraordinarily
beautiful and pleasant animal” with its soulful eyes, humanlike
behaviour and devotion to its offspring, German naturalist Georg
Steller, who travelled with Bering, reported.

OTTERS ‘CRY ALOUD’ AT LOSS OF THEIR YOUNG “Not even the most loving
mother engages in the same kind of playing with her children, and they
love their children in such a way that they expose themselves to the
obvious danger of death,” Steller wrote in his memoirs of the 1741-42
voyages. “When the young are taken from them, they cry aloud like a
little child and grieve in such a way, as we discovered several times,
that within 10 to 14 days they dry up like a skeleton, become sick and
weak, and do not want to leave the land.”

That discovery did not stop Bering’s crew from killing large numbers of
otters, for both their meat and their fur. The plush fur, which came to
be known as “soft gold,” was the prize that spurred the creation of
Russian colonies in Alaska. Commercial hunts continued until 1911, when
the International Fur Seal Treaty gave protection to remaining isolated
otter populations.
The otters never fully recovered throughout their former West Coast
range, but Alaskan populations did bounce back somewhat - in some cases,
with the help of transplants. The Aleutian population came to be the
core for the species.
The Fish and Wildlife Service will continue annual surveys at individual
islands where otter numbers have thinned to a few dozen and plans an
international meeting of scientists this fall to consider information
from neighbouring parts of Russia.
Still in the works is a study of Aleutian otters to determine whether
they are genetically different from other Alaska otters.
“That’s going to be an important piece of the puzzle,” Burn said. It
could determine what measures, if any, are taken to protect Aleutian
otters under the Endangered Species Act or the Marine Mammal Protection
Act.
But Estes said he wondered if effective protection could be mandated by
law. “What could you do? You can’t just go out and limit orca
populations.”

Story by Yereth Rosen

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Comment:

The answer to the question at the end of the above feature:
JUST KEEP YOUR BLOODY HANDS OFF!

Steller, after whom was named also the Stellers SeaCow, the largest ever
living sea-cow, was living longer than his discovery. Short after the
discovery the Stellers Sea-Cow became extinct due to mass-slaugther.

If the mass-harvesting fishing-industry would be restrained - also the
otters would have a future. But to takle the known causes just with
another smokescreen in the name of science - is just stupid!

ECOTERRA Intl.
Nairobi Node
http://www.ecoterra.net
http://www.ecoterra.org.uk

ECOTERRA - FIRST PEOPLES & NATURE FIRST !
SURVIVAL & FREEDOM for PEOPLE & NATURE

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