ARE ORCAS RESPONSIBLE FOR A SHRINKING PACIFIC KING SALMON POPULATION?

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ARE ORCAS RESPONSIBLE FOR A SHRINKING PACIFIC KING SALMON POPULATION?
New research suggests that Chinook salmon are being run down by a growing population of killer whales.
ALASTAIR BLAND
MAR 12, 2018
  • paper, published in the journal Fish and Fisheries, suggest that increasing populations of northern resident orcas, or killer whales, are selectively eating the largest of the Chinook salmon, contributing to the fish's shrinking average size.

    documented that they tend to target the biggest Chinook salmon they can find while practically ignoring younger, smaller fish. Meanwhile, salmon size and age have decreased at the same time as fishing restrictions have tightened and reduced the overall harvest, which would seem to rule out fishers as a factor. The study itself drew no clear conclusions, however.

    If, in fact, orcas are the reason why Chinook salmon size is decreasing, it raises a variety of questions about how these two species related in the past and what can be expected of salmon size and abundance in the future. Although these questions may not be answered for some time, they also do shed a little light on humans' limited powers as ecological stewards.

    "We as humans struggle to even do effective single-species management," said Cascadia Research Collective biologist John Calambokidis, who was not involved in the new research. "Now, as we look at ecosystem interactions between species, we find we're still in the infancy of understanding how those species interact with each other. There are so many dynamics between predator and prey that we don't recognize or understand."

    It may also mean that long-term conservation objectives for salmon could conflict with those for their predators, especially marine mammals.

    Today, salmon runs have declined dramatically in the southern extent of their range in Washington, Oregon, and California. In these areas, a great deal of the fish's freshwater spawning habitat has been lost, causing many coho and Chinook runs to vanish and leaving others critically endangered. In many river systems, hatcheries are necessary to maintain populations.

    While efforts, such as dam removals, are underway to save threatened runs, some researchers have predicted that global warming and habitat loss will all but eradicate North American salmon south of Canada. So it may be no coincidence that southern resident killer whales—a distinct population from the northern resident whales that live off the coasts of Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia—have dwindled to just several dozen animals and are listed as endangered. So important are salmon to southern resident killer whales that the National Marine Fisheries Service has warned that declining Chinook populations could threaten their existence. This has happened while the resident killer whales farther north in the Gulf of Alaska have grown in number, possibly due to local increases in total salmon abundance.

    "People tend to have these conservation goals where everything is abundant, and that just may not be possible," Schindler noted. "Populations of predators and prey are constantly responding to each other, and if orcas have caused this, it could change some people's views on what they want from conservation efforts."

    Concerns over marine mammals preying on salmon, especially from populations already depleted by humans, are nothing new. For example, from 2008 through 2016, Washington State officials killed or relocated 161 California sea lions that had become habitual hunters of imperiled salmon and steelhead that seasonally gather during upriver migrations below the Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River. The California sea lion population has exploded in the past 80 years, while many salmon runs have concurrently floundered. Harbor seal numbers have also boomed, and in some coastal areas these predators prey heavily on juvenile salmon, many just months old and inches long. Last year, research published in Nature found that, between 1975 and 2015, the mass of Chinook salmon eaten by marine mammals had more than doubled.

    study published in 2008 in the journal Evolutionary Applications. In a 2015 paper published in PLoS One, the authors—among them Bert Lewis, an Alaska Department of Fish and Game scientist who contributed to the new research—discussed decreasing sizes of Chinook and stated that "size-selective harvests have undoubtedly led to downward shifts in age and size of some species of salmon."

    Another untested hypothesis, White suggests, is that salmon sharks, a smaller fish-eating relative of the great white shark, could be responsible for the trend. Salmon shark numbers, White said, have also been growing.

    The fact is that Chinook salmon have co-existed with all of their predators for millennia, and the fish were likely more abundant and bigger in the past, even when sharks and killer whales were also almost certainly more numerous. Or maybe, White suggests, Chinook salmon weren't especially large in the past—at least not always. Chinooks' average size and abundance may have historically gone through cycles, rising and falling in direct response to pressures from predators, whose own numbers may have cycled up and down, he said.

    "Under that scenario maybe the salmon would start growing to larger body size again when predation is relaxed," White said.

    Calambokidis, however, thinks it's possible that a growing orca population is limiting Chinook size uniquely in more recent times. He pointed out that humans have depleted most salmon runs from historical levels. This, he suggested, has made them more susceptible to native predators, whereas in a more natural state the two species might co-exist with greater balance.

    "The potential for killer whales having this kind of effect on salmon is more plausible when we consider that salmon numbers have been reduced already, mainly from the loss of spawning habitat," he said.

    This article originally appeared on Oceans Deeply, and you can find the original here. For important news about our world’s oceans, you can sign up to the Oceans Deeply email list.


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silver slayer

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That's way to long for me to read but I believe hatchery process is what makes the fish smaller. Not sure why they dont breed the big one with big ones. Instead of just grabbing the first however many make it up there.seems like they could pick the better gene pools and create quality fish
 
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Yella1

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The Orcas would have a way easier time if they would just come down to Southern California for a few months each year to EAT some of these DAMN sea lions. They would get all fat and happy and leave the salmon alone. Everybody wins (except the sea dogs, that that's fine with me).
 
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One_Leg

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It's probably all the excreted residual active ingredients from boner pills and estrogen supplements they take up there being flushed into the water supplies.

Salmon gotta swim in that all day. Prolly giving em huge fish titties.

How are the otters doing up there, they eat fish!
 
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Fog Ducker!

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    The Orcas would have a way easier time if they would just come down to Southern California for a few months each year to EAT some of these DAMN sea lions. They would get all fat and happy and leave the salmon alone. Everybody wins (except the sea dogs, that that's fine with me).

    Hey, our Orcas are just to smart! They would rather eat the omega rich tasty salmon over the fat and greasy seal meat!

    Lets see, maybe we can convince them to go to some of the liberal higher education facilities and learn to do dumb shit!

    Ducker!
     
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    One_Leg

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    These creatures are more dangerous than sharks.

    Why do humans create so much suffering for this species? 90% reduction in population is unavoidable. If we don't fix the mistake of granting them special status nature will eventually do it for us.

    If I am allowed to eat cows I should be allowed to eat sea lions. A properly executed research program will determine the best possible methods of harvesting, processing, preparation and storage to eliminate waste and increase savoriness. If they don't smell bad I would like to have a seal skin wallet.

    Americans are great at saving some species. Too good in the case of sea lions. Let's sell them to Nanook and his brethren. Trade the Eskimos for meteorites recovered from the Arctic.
     
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    fishkilr

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    Hey, our Orcas are just to smart! They would rather eat the omega rich tasty salmon over the fat and greasy seal meat!
    Ya ..those orcas that have figured out how to throw themselves on the beach or throw a wake or their body at an ice floe to grab seals are pretty stupid..
     
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    Chasin' Tail

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    My money is on the "selective mesh size" on gillnets that greatly reduces the abundance of bigger fish in the gene pool.

    When I fish on local rivers that have an abundance of gillnets, the few fish that I catch above the gauntlet of nets, will mostly show signs of being able to barely fit thru the gillnet. Fresh wounds on the dorsal fin & missing scales around the center of their bodies where they were able to struggle and make it thru the net. These fish are consistently in the 5-7# size. Where their bigger siblings cannot squeeze thru & do not make it back to the hatcheries
    .
     
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    WaveDancer

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    Seal and Sea Lion populations have exploded at the same exact time salmon numbers have started getting historically low no matter what restrictions have been placed on fisherman.

    I think it's time to reduce the biomass of the furbags to say 20-25% of what they are currently and then see what happens.

    ANY place they historically were never native to, like the Columbia River, they need to be 100% removed, NOW!

    These critters are not threatened or endangered in any way shape or form, they need to be treated just like deer and elk herds that are over populated, HARVEST TIME!!!

    A lot of the problems with the furbags started when they learned to not fear humans and instead see humans as a source of an easy meal or easy living.

    Restore their fear of humans and the problem will more than likely take care of itself.

    Just my .02

    WD
     
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    BiggestT

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    The Orcas would have a way easier time if they would just come down to Southern California for a few months each year to EAT some of these DAMN sea lions. They would get all fat and happy and leave the salmon alone. Everybody wins (except the sea dogs, that that's fine with me).

    You know what they say: once black, never back. Maybe it’s possible to convert a salmon eating orca to a sea lion eater?
     
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    Corndog

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    I believe loss of habitat and hatcheries have a huge negative affect along with the hundred other issues salmon face. Years of hatchery raising truly weakens the genetic diversity that allow various fish to survive certain conditions. How many salmon per 1000 return of gmhatchery versus wild? Only the strongest pass genetics in the wild but hatcheries succeed due to mass abundance and much of the weaker genetics continue to pass along the Gene's that might not have ever made it to the ocean.

    I'm praying the Klamath dams come down as ruled in norcal as it will reopen hundreds of miles of habitat for the species to hopefully use again over new introductions and hopefully start a trend towards diversity and stronger genetic selection from wild spawning.

    Kill the fur bags and allow Japanese to "research" a couple Willie's lol
     
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    sgwill122

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    I believe loss of habitat and hatcheries have a huge negative affect along with the hundred other issues salmon face. Years of hatchery raising truly weakens the genetic diversity that allow various fish to survive certain conditions. How many salmon per 1000 return of gmhatchery versus wild? Only the strongest pass genetics in the wild but hatcheries succeed due to mass abundance and much of the weaker genetics continue to pass along the Gene's that might not have ever made it to the ocean.

    I'm praying the Klamath dams come down as ruled in norcal as it will reopen hundreds of miles of habitat for the species to hopefully use again over new introductions and hopefully start a trend towards diversity and stronger genetic selection from wild spawning.

    Kill the fur bags and allow Japanese to "research" a couple Willie's lol

    Can you share a few facts on your 'hatcheries have huge negative affect' opinion. Wild runs are great but hatchery fish face most of the same selective pressures, they have to make their way out to the ocean, find food and avoid predators for 2-7 years and make it back up the river to the hatchery. The weak links are weeded out just like the wild runs. The big benefit of hatcheries is they overcome degraded habitat, or abnormal environmental events such as high or low flows which leave wild eggs exposed or buried in silt(no genetics can compensate for these factors). Most sportsmen are fond of hatcheries and would like to see more. The only negative I attribute to hatcheries is that they often do not select the biggest fish but maybe we should blame the Orcas.
     
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    Corndog

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    Can you share a few facts on your 'hatcheries have huge negative affect' opinion. Wild runs are great but hatchery fish face most of the same selective pressures, they have to make their way out to the ocean, find food and avoid predators for 2-7 years and make it back up the river to the hatchery. The weak links are weeded out just like the wild runs. The big benefit of hatcheries is they overcome degraded habitat, or abnormal environmental events such as high or low flows which leave wild eggs exposed or buried in silt(no genetics can compensate for these factors). Most sportsmen are fond of hatcheries and would like to see more. The only negative I attribute to hatcheries is that they often do not select the biggest fish but maybe we should blame the Orcas.
    Well speaking for California many of the Salmon and steelhead have adapted to abnormally high river temps for example. Where one region might suffer other fish might flourish. I guess I'm not against hatcheries but I do believe the species would flourish with more habitat to spread out and do their thing. Look at hatchery rainbows compared to wild fish. Tell me they are the same lol
     
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    Salmonmoocher

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    Well speaking for California many of the Salmon and steelhead have adapted to abnormally high river temps for example. Where one region might suffer other fish might flourish. I guess I'm not against hatcheries but I do believe the species would flourish with more habitat to spread out and do their thing. Look at hatchery rainbows compared to wild fish. Tell me they are the same lol

    Take another hit off yer Weed pipe...as soon as the Washington hatcheries get back to producing 26 MILLION Chinook a year is when All the Apex Predators will be Happy. The Problem today is that funds that were onced used for Hatchery Production of Sport Fish are now used to fund Stupid Liberal programs.:finger::finger:
     
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    Corndog

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    Take another hit off yer Weed pipe...as soon as the Washington hatcheries get back to producing 26 MILLION Chinook a year is when All the Apex Predators will be Happy. The Problem today is that funds that were onced used for Hatchery Production of Sport Fish are now used to fund Stupid Liberal programs.:finger::finger:
    I'm not for liberal policies buddy. I believe they have caused our major issues along along the coast with over population of mammals. I dont live in California....I fish in California. Typing thoughts from a cell phone is not easy. If u want to be a dick I'll avoid your salmon talks. The Klamath used to have enormous Kings but the hatcheries, nets and numerous other factory's have muddled the genetics of the Klamath river runs. Historically the Klamath had one of the largest returns on the entire west coast. Not anymore. California fish have different adaptations than Washi fish. For example Kings in the Klamath can enter a river that at times has temps near 70 degrees. That's an adaptation that the fall fish survive.

    Anyways I've done plenty of research but in person and by book/internet. Not a pipe dream. Maybe the issues with the klamath are unique. But I dont buy into global warming or the belief that humans are the only issue. I just know that if the fish are given the chance they are pretty damn resilient.

    If u believe hatcheries are the best possible way for ling term health and prosperity then maybe your the one to set down the pipe:D
     
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    fishinden

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    Nobody wants to talk about the elephant in the room! Commercial exploitation, using the most destructive device ever used against these fish, the MONOFILIMENT GILLNETS
    Stop the insanity, ban gillnets . The sooner the better. It would be better for the residents of Washington and the fish to pay the commercial side not to fish, for 5years and see what happens.Than to blame everything else , and study the salmon to death trying to find a reason for their demise.All in an effort to save the nets. I guess the almighty dollar, that my mother called "the root of all evil", wins again
     
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