Marine mammal rescue is a problem
March 24, 2015
OPINION By STEVEN L. REBUCK
It should be apparent that the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 (MMPA) is now causing significant harm to some species of marine mammals. The MMPA proposed to allow marine mammal populations to increase to their “maximum sustainable population” (MSP) while giving consideration to the overall health of the marine environment. Instead, MSP been interpreted to mean, “maximum population”, or, cram as many marine mammals as possible into limited habitat. This is the situation we now find ourselves.
Marine mammal rescue centers are reporting increased stranding of sick seals and sea lions statewide. Many of these are young, which appear to be starving. These centers take in sick animals, feed them and provide medicine. But, are they really helping individuals or population?
If left on the beach, these sick and dying might be seen. Citizens might draw the conclusion something is wrong. And, they would be right. By cleansing the beaches of sick animals, the evidence is removed from view.
In a 1991 report by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) “Rescue, Rehabilitation and Release of Marine Mammals; an Analysis of Current Views and Practices” it was reported:
“These are species (Elephant seals, harbor seals, and sea lions) that have large, stable and expanding populations that do not benefit from rehabilitation programs but for which the majority of effort and funding is expanded.”
These rescue operations have become big business, at least for those on the payroll. Most of these organizations could not function without all those nice folks who volunteer time and money to the effort. Releasing imprinted and/or genetically inferior animals creates more problems.
On land, we don’t allow animal populations to explode, from dogs and cats to deer and pigs. So why is the ocean different?
Clearly, these stranded animals are not successfully foraging for food.
Seals and sea lions are not the only marine mammals affected by food depletion. Sea otters in California are impacted to by their own depletion of their food items.
It takes considerable food for these animals to survive. Dr. Doyle Hannon, (California Department of Fish and Game, retired) in his Aug. 19, 2003 testimony before the House Resources Committee reported the average sea lion consumes 20 pounds of fish per day. NMFS estimates the population of California Sea Lions at 296,750 (other estimates range as high as 350,000). At 20 lbs. per day, this 5,935,000 lbs. per day or 2,166,275,000 lbs. per year!
In addition, these animals excrete their waste back into the near-shore environment. Some enclosed areas are now showing signs of hypoxia or a lack of dissolved oxygen in the water column.
To conclude: The MMPA allows marine mammals to die from starvation and disease. Seals and sea lions destroy public property. Fisheries and coastal economies are devastated. Other animal resources like salmon and abalone are depleted. This does not make economic sense nor is it humane.
Steve Rebuck of San Luis Obispo is a fisheries consultant who has appeared before the U.S. Congress four times (1984, 1985, 2001, 2003) on the sea otter in California, MMPA and Endangered Species Act.
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