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Category: Seals & Sea Lions

Canadian harp seals coming to American waters in larger numbers

Harp Seal

PORTLAND, Maine — Harp seals from Canada are showing up in U.S. waters in greater numbers and farther south than usual, and biologists want to know why.

Small numbers of juvenile harp seals are typically found each winter stranded along the coast of the northeastern United States. But this year, well more than 100 adult harp seals -- not juveniles -- have been spotted, said Mendy Garron, regional marine mammal stranding coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Gloucester, Mass. The sightings are reported by 14 seal stranding and rehabilitation organizations in New England and the Middle Atlantic.

"In some areas they're reporting three times the normal number of sightings," Garron said. "This year, we've had four sightings of adult harp seals in North Carolina, which we've never had before. We typically don't see them that far south."

Seals are common in New England waters, where the most abundant type is the harbor seal, with a population estimated at about 100,000 the last time they were surveyed a decade ago. Gray seals are the second most common seal.

But those numbers are piddling compared to the number of harp seals found in the northwest Atlantic. Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans says 9 million of them can be found off Canada and Greenland.

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Rise in sea lion shootings reported in California

Sea Lion X-Ray SAN FRANCISCO — The weak and woozy California sea lion found on a San Francisco Bay-area beach in December with buckshot embedded in its skull has become an all-too-common sight for wildlife officials.

Wildlife officials have seen a slight rise in the shooting of ocean mammals in recent years, and investigators often struggle to find a culprit. There are few witnesses to such shootings, making it nearly impossible to bring a case.

"We always try to do an investigation, but unless there's an eyewitness to the shooting it's hard to make a case for our enforcement folks," said Joe Cordaro, a wildlife biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration who tracks reports of the shootings.

NOAA said there were 43 reported marine mammal shootings in 2009 in the waters off the California coast -- nine more than in 2008 and 14 more than five years earlier. Of the reported shootings in 2009, all were sea lions. And officials say many more cases probably go unreported.

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Alaska sues over planned fishing restrictions aimed at protecting sea lions

Steller Sea Lions

ANCHORAGE — The state of Alaska filed a lawsuit Tuesday in an effort to stop a federal agency's plan to protect endangered sea lions by restricting fishing in the western Aleutian Islands.

Gov. Sean Parnell said the National Marine Fisheries Service failed to make a rational connection between what it found and the conclusion it reached that fishing needs to be curtailed in the far western Aleutians because sea lions aren't getting enough to eat.

"The agency's conclusion that additional fishing restrictions are necessary is not supported by the best available scientific information," Parnell said.

The state asked the court to issue a ruling to prevent NMFS' plan from being implemented Jan. 1.

Last week, the federal agency announced that commercial mackerel and cod fisheries in the western Aleutians would be restricted. The state argues that restricted fishing isn't necessary when the population of western Steller sea lions is growing between 1% and 1.5% a year.

"This decision will have immediate and significant impacts on local communities and fishermen in the area," the governor said.

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State troopers escort wayward sea lion off Oregon highway and return it to ocean

Sea Lion Rescue

YACHATS, Ore. — A wayward sea lion trying to scoot down a highway along the Oregon coast got an escort from state troopers.

The Oregon State Police says the animal apparently entered U.S. Highway 101 through a state park near Yachats (yah-hahts) and weaved in and out of traffic for about half a mile.

Troopers and a local fire and rescue unit used batons and plastic boards designed to keep patients immobile as they flanked the sea lion and guided it along the side of highway.

The animal was led back into the Pacific Ocean after the procession guided it to an oceanside state park about a quarter of a mile down the road from where it was found.

RELATED SEA LION STORIES:

-- Associated Press

Photo: The sea lion is guided back to the Pacific Ocean on Dec. 11. Credit: Oregon State Police / Associated Press

Government group seeks to list populations of ringed seals and bearded seals as threatened

Bearded Seal

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — The federal government on Friday proposed listing two seals that depend on sea ice as threatened species because of the projected loss of ice from climate warming.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will seek to list ringed seals found in the Arctic Basin and the North Atlantic and two populations of bearded seals in the Pacific Ocean as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

Ringed seals are the main prey of polar bears, which were listed as threatened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2008. For ringed seals, the proposed listing also cites the threat of reduced snow cover.

NOAA climate models were used to predict future diminishing sea ice conditions.

The Center for Biological Diversity petitioned to list the seals in 2008 and later sued to force a decision on additional protections.

"We're pleased that NOAA is following the science and the law in recognizing the reality of what global warming is doing to the Arctic and its species," said Brendan Cummings, an attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity.

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Federal court halts killing of salmon-eating sea lions in the Columbia River

Sea Lion

PORTLAND, Ore. — Sea lions that have faced death by lethal injection for making banquets of endangered fish in the Columbia River won a reprieve Tuesday when a federal appeals court told Oregon and Washington wildlife officials to cease killing them.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the federal government failed to explain why it lets state officials kill sea lions, while humans are allowed to take comparable or larger catches of the endangered salmon and steelhead.

Angry fishermen along the river have protested over the last decade as growing numbers of the sea lions clustered at the base of Bonneville Dam, where fish waiting to head upriver to spawn are easy pickings.

In 2008, the federal government gave Oregon and Washington state agencies the go-ahead to kill the hungriest of the sea lions, a decision challenged by the Humane Society of the United States.

In the last two years, 24 of the California sea lions have been killed. They are captured at the dam and taken to a facility where they are given a lethal injection by a veterinarian.

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Man convicted of shooting sea lion in Sacramento River is sentenced; sea lion has reconstructive surgery

Sgt  Nevis Sea Lion

YUBA CITY, Calif. — A Sacramento man convicted of shooting a sea lion in the head will spend 30 days in jail and five years on probation.

Larry Legans was also ordered Friday to pay $51,081 in restitution for the cost of treating the sea lion. Authorities say Legans shot the animal while fishing on the Sacramento River in 2009 because it was taking his fish.

The nearly 650-pound sea lion, now known as Sgt. Nevis, underwent plastic surgery at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo last week to close holes in his muzzle caused by the shotgun blast. The sea lion was named after the animal control officer who captured it.

Legans pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of maiming or wounding an animal. Prosecutors say he is barred from all hunting or fishing while on probation.

RELATED SEA LION STORIES:
Rescued sea lion pups prepare to return to the wild in Peru
Sea lion pup found on Newport Beach rooftop

-- Associated Press

Photo: Animal trainer Jenny Egelhoff tries to comfort Sgt. Nevis before he undergoes reconstructive surgery to repair his muzzle Oct. 8. Credit: Chris Riley / Associated Press

Your morning adorable: Rescued sea lion pups prepare to return to the wild in Peru

Veterinarian Cristina Grau, a member of Orca, Organization for Research and 
Conservation of Aquatic Animals, plays with 3-month-old male sea lion Leo at an 
Orca rehabilitation base in Lima

Two South American sea lion pups, abandoned by their mother when they were a week old, are being cared for by the staff of the Organization for Research and Conservation of Aquatic Animals in Lima, Peru, until they are old enough to be released into the wild.

The pups, one male and one female who are now three months old, have been named Leo and Liz by the organization's staff. Veterinarians Cristina Grau and Carlos Yaipen even take Leo and Liz to a nearby beach to teach them skills they'll need for life as wild sea lions.

The organization's mission is twofold: It helps to promote education about marine mammals and conservation efforts in South America while rescuing and rehabilitating sick, injured and orphaned marine animals. It works primarily with South American sea lions and otters, but also works with dolphins, porpoises and whales.

See more photos of Leo and Liz after the jump!

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Navy-trained sea lions, dolphins participate in anti-terrorism training exercises

Navy sea lion

SAN FRANCISCO — A Navy seal -- actually a sea lion -- took less than a minute to find a fake mine under a pier near AT&T Park.

A dolphin quickly located a terrorist lurking in the black water before another sea lion, using a device carried in its mouth, cuffed the pretend saboteur's ankle so authorities could reel him in.

The specially trained Navy Marine Mammals, based in San Diego, stole the show in a day of anti-terrorism training exercises held at ports throughout California.

More than 3,000 local, state and federal responders are participating in the scenarios that began Tuesday as part of California's annual two-day homeland security and disaster preparedness exercises started by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2004.

The drills include a fake attack on a container ship at the Port of Oakland, a fake bomb explosion at the Port of Redwood City, and fake terrorist attacks in waters off Los Angeles, Long Beach, Sacramento and San Diego.

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Sea lion pup found on Newport Beach rooftop

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. — Mike Kai thought one of his surfing buddies was thumping around on his rooftop deck, but it turned out to be a wayward sea lion pup, enjoying the view of Newport Beach at sunrise.

Kai said he couldn't imagine how the pinniped made it up the stairs and onto the roof early Thursday.

While Kai called Animal Control, the pup showed off, wiggling along a railing on his belly, two stories above the ground.

The sea lion was taken to the Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach, where volunteers named him Fiddler, after the Broadway musical "Fiddler on the Roof."

Staff there say he is underweight, probably because he was recently weaned and having trouble finding food on his own.

They say sea lions are mobile and curious, and have been found everywhere from a restaurant kitchen to a public restroom.

-- Associated Press

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