I’ve been editing images that I took several years ago of Steller sea lions at the Gran Point haulout near Haines. Among the images was the photo above of a Steller sea lion (Eumetopias jubatus) with a trolling flasher caught in its mouth. Entanglement with sport and commercial fishing equipment and other marine debris can harm and even cause death in Steller sea lions.
In a research project by Sea Gypsy Research and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, published in the Marine Pollution Bulletin 58 (2009), researchers noted “when a flasher is near the mouth the hook is probably embedded in the animal’s stomach. Stomach penetration likely leads to peritonitis and death.” Additionally, infection of the jaw can lead to tooth loss or the inability to feed.
The project found that of ingested fishing gear (longline gear, hook and line, spinners/spoons and bait hooks) flashers accounted for 80% of ingested fishing gear. Researchers estimated that flashers are used by commercial trollers on only 20% of their hooks.
Trolling flashers like the one shown are used by both commercial and sports fisherman to catch salmon. In Alaska, trolling flasher use is legal only in Southeast Alaska.
There are two distinct populations of Steller sea lions in Alaska. The majority of Stellar sea lions that frequent the Lynn Canal are part of the eastern population of Steller sea lions which are not listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act; unlike the western population of Steller sea lions which are listed as endangered. That said, there have been confirmed sightings of the western population Steller sea lions at Gran Point.
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