Steller sea lions (Eumetopias jubatus) increased in the eastern portion of their range while declining in the Gulf of Alaska and Aleutian Islands from the late 1970s to late 1990s. We constructed ecosystem models of the central and western Aleutians and of southeast Alaska to simultaneously evaluate four hypotheses explaining sea lion dynamics: killer whale (Orcinus orca) predation, ocean productivity, fisheries, and competition with other species. Comparisons of model predictions with historical time series data indicate that all four factors likely contributed to the trends observed in sea lion numbers in both ecosystems. Changes in ocean productivity conveyed by the Pacific Decadal Oscillation influenced the abundance trajectory of several species. Fishing could have affected the ecosystem structure by influencing the abundance of Atka mackerel (Pleurogrammus monopterygius) in the Aleutians and Pacific herring (Clupea pallasii) in southeast Alaska. Pacific halibut (Hippoglossus stenolepis) in the Aleutians and arrowtooth flounder (Atheresthes stomias) in southeast Alaska appear to impede sea lion population growth through competitive interactions. Predation by killer whales was important when sea lions were less abundant in the 1990s in the Aleutians and in the 1960s in Southeast Alaska, but appear to have little effect when sea lion numbers were high.
- SOUTHEASTERN BERING SEA
- Marine & Freshwater Biology
- KILLER WHALE PREDATION
- SEQUENTIAL MEGAFAUNAL COLLAPSE