Harbor Seals Blamed For Salmon Declines, But Are They The Real Culprit

Talk to salmon fishermen and they’ll tell you there are too many harbor seals on British Columbia’s Pacific coast.

Since protection in the early 1970s by Canada and the United States, harbor seal numbers in the Strait of Georgia have grown from a few thousand to 40,000, the highest density in the world.

At the same time, the southern resident killer whale and salmon populations are crashing, and fingers are being pointed at the charismatic and copious seals.

Some in the scientific community agree seals are to blame, at least tongue-in-cheek. At a marine mammal symposium hosted by the University of British Columbia (UBC) in November, one poster presentation featured harbor seals’ voracity for chinook and described the pinnipeds as having “dark, emotionless eyes, [a] jovial grin, [and] insatiable hunger.” Not only that, but the poster identified the seals as wanted: “for the premature death of countless chinook smolts, [and] subsequent … starvation of killer whales.”

The only problem with this simplified portrait of blame is that the ocean ecosystem is far more complex.

Photo: Pascal Mauerhofer/Unsplash

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