2017 Alaska Marine Mammal Stock Assessments
On 30 April 1994, Public Law 103-238 was enacted allowing significant changes to provisions within the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA). Interactions between marine mammals and commercial fisheries are addressed under three new sections. This new regime replaced the interim exemption that has regulated fisheriesrelated incidental takes since 1988. Section 117, Stock Assessments, required the establishment of three regional scientific review groups to advise and report on the status of marine mammal stocks within Alaska waters, along the Pacific Coast (including Hawaii), and the Atlantic Coast (including the Gulf of Mexico). This report provides information on the marine mammal stocks of Alaska under the jurisdiction of the National Marine Fisheries Service.
Steller sea lions range along the North Pacific Rim from northern Japan to California (Loughlin et al. 1984), with centers of abundance and distribution in the Gulf of Alaska and Aleutian Islands (Fig. 1). Large numbers of individuals disperse widely outside of the breeding season (late May-early July), probably to access seasonally important prey resources. This results in marked seasonal patterns of abundance in some parts of the range and potential for intermixing in foraging areas of animals that were born in different areas (Sease and York 2003). Despite the wide-ranging movements of juveniles and adult males in particular, exchange between rookeries by breeding adult females and males (other than between adjoining rookeries) is low, although males have a higher tendency to disperse than females (NMFS 1995, Trujillo et al. 2004, Hoffman et al. 2006).
Loughlin (1997) considered the following information when classifying stock structure based on the phylogeographic approach of Dizon et al. (1992): 1) Distributional data: geographic distribution continuous, yet a high degree of natal site fidelity and low (<10%) exchange rate of breeding animals among rookeries; 2) Population response data: substantial differences in population dynamics (York et al. 1996, Pendleton et al. 2006); 3) Phenotypic data: differences in the length of pups (Merrick et al. 1995, Loughlin 1997); and 4) Genotypic data: substantial differences in mitochondrial DNA (Bickham et al. 1996). Based on this information, two separate stocks of Steller sea lions were recognized within U.S. waters: an Eastern U.S. stock, which includes animals born east of Cape Suckling, Alaska (144W), and a Western U.S. stock, which includes animals born at and west of Cape Suckling (Loughlin 1997; Fig. 1). However, Jemison et al. (2013) summarized that there is regular movement of Steller sea lions from the western Distinct Population Segment (DPS) (males and females equally) and eastern DPS (almost exclusively males) across the DPS boundary