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Steller Sea Lion Survival and Reproduction
February, 22nd 2017
Found mostly in remote locations of Alaska and Russia, these animals spend the majority of their life at sea. Most rookeries and haul-out sites are only accessible a few months of the year. In a new approach, wild juveniles are brought temporarily to a specialized research facility at the Alaska SeaLife Center to help scientists learn more about their biology (Mellish et al. 2006, (Download File). This program was used to launch the three phase Life History Transmitter (LHX) project. Phase 1 (2005-2011): Partnered with Wildlife Computers, an internal, archival satellite-linked data recording transmitter (LHX) was developed (Horning and Hill 2005, (Download File). The LHX is surgically implanted in the abdominal cavity where it records temperature, pressure, salinity and light levels. Conventional multi-year telemetry devices are limited by transmission range and battery life. The LHX overcomes this problem by transmitting stored data only after the host has died and the tag is extruded from the carcass.
Over the past ten years, we have deployed LHX implants in 35 juveniles from Prince William Sound. We have gathered a wealth of previously unknown information on survival rates of this young age class and for the first time, strong evidence for the potential cause of mortality (Horning and Mellish, 2009 (Download File); Horning and Mellish 2012 (Download File). Contrary to even our own initial projections, more than half of the young cohort may be consumed by predators prior to reaching reproductive age. Phase 2 (2014-2016): Moving forward, the next generation LHX2 will be able to detect pregnancy. This phase will begin deployment in the Gulf of Alaska in 2014. Phase 3 (2017-2020): The ultimate goal will be to perform ship-board implantation and release in the Western Aleutian islands.