What’s New Archive

(137 articles on this page)

Transient Killer whaleWhat’s in a Whistle?

New study examines how transient killer whales communicate

When the slightest sound could give you away to your prey, you have to communicate carefully. That’s the lesson learned from transient killer whales hunting seals and sea lions, which have exceptional hearing. New Consortium research investigates how transients use whistles, and how their whistles differ from those of fish-eating residents.

See full story >>

March 12, 2012

Steller sea lion researchMetabolic Mysteries:
Researchers explore connection between heart rate and energy expenditure

How much energy do Steller sea lions expend while diving and foraging in the remote North Pacific Ocean? Answering this question can help to conserve endangered populations. Two new Consortium studies examine the role of diving and digestion in metabolism.

See full story>>

September 7, 2011

Steller sea lion researchDiving for Dinner The mechanics of foraging and commuting in Steller sea lions

Foraging at sea is always a gamble for Steller sea lions. It is hard work to swim out to prey fields and dive for hours, and small changes in ocean conditions can hamper the hunt. Two new Consortium studies shed light on how ocean currents can affect the cost of foraging.

See full story>>

January 17, 2011

Portrait of a Predator

Photo study leads to estimate of killer whale population

How do you estimate a population of killer whales based on the momentary­ glimpse of a dorsal fin? If you’re a marine biologist, you study thousands of photos of dorsal fins to identify individual whales, and then apply complex statistics to estimate the whole population. A team of Consortium researchers recently did just that, producing some intriguing results.

See full story >>

November 22, 2010

killer whale dorsal fins

Go Go Gadgets on the Go A cornerstone of the captive sea lion research program has been the development and testing of new techniques that can be taken to the field to enhance the conservation of wild seals and sea lions.  One of these new technologies was recently test-driven by Steller sea lions at the Vancouver Aquarium and is now being used to study fur seals in the wild.

See full story >>

November 1, 2010


Northern fur seals – a Tale of Two Critters

A recent experience with young northern fur seals resulted in unexpected insights into the physiology of fur seals, and stronger synergy between researchers and marine mammal trainers. The results represent a breakthrough in the world of conservation and animal care.

See full story>> September 13, 2010

Adventures in Grad Schooling Not many people can get up close and personal with marine mammals, but the Consortium’s graduate students get to work with some of the most fascinating animals on the planet: the pinnipeds of the Bering Sea.

See full story>> August 10, 2010

Go Go Gadget Accelerometer Researchers have long been searching for an improved method of studying marine mammal foraging behavior. Could the answer to their prayers come in the form of an electronic device that fits in the palm of a hand? Consortium researchers recently tested the mettle of this promising new technology.See full story>> June 9, 2010
Seals, sea lions and trainers — oh my! Marine mammal trainers play a vital role in the Consortium’s research projects. They train the animals to perform the behaviours that researchers need for their studies – behaviours that range anywhere from getting onto a weighing scale to taking free dives in the ocean, returning to an oxygen dome, and staying there for five minutes. But training two different species – Steller sea lions and northern fur seals – means taking different approaches.See full story>> April 28, 2010
Trainer with Steller sea lion
Endocrine Explorations When faced with a food shortage, a sea lion’s endocrine system takes charge, regulating the body through the hormones it secretes. Consortium researchers recently took a closer look at this complex system, hoping for a clearer picture of how the physiology of Steller sea lions responds in times of trouble.See full story>> March 3, 2010
fur seal pup
Creative Science on a Budget Consortium researchers and technicians have problem-solving skills that would make MacGyver proud. Find out how the technicians at the UBC Marine Mammal Energetics and Nutrition Laboratory face some of their most unique challenges.See full story>> February 11, 2010
fur seal pup
Stress CaseThe marine mammal research community has spent the past two decades debating the cause of Steller sea lion population decline in the North Pacific, but one hypothesis in particular has attracted much attention and debate…see full story>>January 18, 2010
fur seal pup
Decisions, Decisions There comes a time each year in every Steller sea lion’s life when it must go without food. But exactly how sea lions pull through in times of decreased energy intake has long been a mystery to scientists. Recently, however, a group of Consortium researchers shed new light on the decisions sea lions make when allocating energy during times of food shortages.See full story >> November 18, 2009
steller sea lions
Time Flies When You’re Tagging Seals The field season has now drawn to a close and Consortium research teams returned home. But before they traded the Bering Sea for highways, traffic lights, and of course, data compilation, we caught up with Chad Nordstrom and Brian Battaile to find out how they fared.See full story >> October 29, 2009
steller sea lions

Scat Science

Aiming to improve upon traditional methods of reconstructing pinniped diets, Consortium researchers recently integrated cutting-edge DNA technology into a conventional method of analyzing scat samples — and proved that a little change can indeed be a good thing.

See full story >> September 16, 2009

scat collecting

The Fasts of Life

Seasonal Differences in Biochemical Adaptation to Fasting in Juvenile and Subadult Steller Sea Lions

Fasting is a significant part of the Steller sea lion’s life history, but until recently, researchers knew little about the physiological changes that occur while the animal goes without food. Consortium researchers recently delved into the biochemical details of fasting—and emerged with interesting findings.

See full story >> August 20, 2009

‘Tis the (Field) Season

The UBC Fisheries Centre is a flurry of activity as researchers prepare for their summer field seasons. Here is a look at some of the adventures that await them.

See full story >>July 7, 2009


Northern Fur seal research
Cutting the Costs of Foraging Consortium researchers studying the costs of foraging in Steller sea lions recently discovered that the animals spend less energy during longer series of continuous dives than shorter ones. Intrigued, they focused on how sea lions manage their oxygen while foragingand came to an interesting conclusion.See full story >>

June 3, 2009

Ecopath, Virtual Ecosystems, and the Status of the Gulf of Alaska Not all Consortium research takes place in natural ecosystems, or even with live subjects. A team of researchers employed an innovative software program to reconstruct and understand two ecosystems in the Gulf of Alaska that are drastically different today compared to the past. They will be presenting their findings at an upcoming conference highlighting the ability of Ecopath software to describe and predict the dynamics of complex marine ecosystems.See full story>

May 11, 2009

Annual Report announcement The Consortium has published over 160 papers since university based researchers came together to delve into the mysterious decline of Steller sea lions and other species in Alaska. The 2007-2009 Annual Report summarizes some of our latest findings and points to the complexity of the mysteries still to be resolved.See full story> April 21, 2009
Update: Off-Island Northern Fur Seal Research Program In December 2008, six northern fur seal pups arrived at the Vancouver Aquarium as part of a new research program to study fur seal biology and causes of population decline. Three months after their arrival, the pups have settled in and are beginning to reveal secrets about the needs of fur seals during winter.See full story >> March 23, 2009
Fur seal pups
Putting a Price Tag on Habitat Conservation Consortium researchers recently developed a method to evaluate the economic costs of habitat-driven fishery closures. By taking spatial considerations and environmental variables into account, they came up with a relevant approach to determining the financial cost of habitat conservation.See full story >> March 3, 2009
FIgure 2
Summertime Blues Does time of year affect recovery from nutritional stress? Alaska’s stormy winters would seem to pose a bigger challenge to survival for Steller sea lions than the relatively mild summers. But a new Consortium study suggests that summer is a more critical period for sea lions under nutritional stress. Following a prolonged reduction in quantity and quality of prey, sea lions appeared to recover more slowly in summer than in winter, which could affect their survival and reproduction.see full story >> February 9, 2009
Researchers in the field
Reconstructing the Past Prehistoric data helps to assess modern Pacific cod fishery The Aleut word for Pacific cod translates to “the fish that stops”. A recent study using prehistoric palaeoecological data provides clues to the origins of this word, as well as insights into natural cycles that cod have experienced for thousands of years. The bones recovered from middens also provide a basis for evaluating the effects of modern day fisheries on the size of Pacific cod in the Gulf of Alaska.See full story > January 20, 2009
Bones in the lab

Off-Island Northern Fur Seal Research Program Six northern fur seal pups recently joined a research colony of Steller sea lions to help resolve another ecological mystery in the North Pacific.

see full story>> December 11, 2008


Critical Habitat RevisitedResearchers Develop Predictive Model to Improve Legislation Federal laws that designate Critical Habitat have played a key role in conserving marine mammals in Alaska, but the information they are based on is now dated. Consortium researchers have used more recent knowledge to better predict the occurrence of sea lions at sea, providing policy makers with new tools to refine and update current legislation designating Critical Habitat.See full story>> Nov. 24, 2008
A Feast of Fur Seals Studying killer whale predation in the Pribilof Islands Each summer in northern Alaska, the world’s largest gathering of northern fur seals provides a reliable source of food for mammal-eating killer whales. Consortium researchers ventured to the remote Pribilof Islands to study the impact of killer whale predation on fur seal populations—and made a surprising discovery.See full story>> November 4, 2008
Killer whales and fur seal
The Benefits of Buoyancy? Female sea lions routinely pack on the pounds in spring and slim down with the arrival of fall. Do these changes in body composition – and their affect on buoyancy – impact diving and foraging at depth? Using trained sea lions in an open water environment, a recent study investigated the effect of buoyancy on energy expenditure while diving.See full story>> October 14, 2009
Videogram from the field Another successful field season has wrapped up.  Join documentary film maker Simon Schneider as he reports from the field on some of this summer’s activities.See full story>>

September 29, 2008

Trites summer 2008 research
Toward a Common GoalScientists Share Dataset to Advance Research Among the challenges facing researchers in the eastern North Pacific Ocean is the complexity of the marine ecosystem, and the lack of physical descriptions of the state of the ocean. To address this knowledge gap, Consortium scientists have compiled a comprehensive set of environmental data about the ocean and are sharing it freely with fellow researchers.see full story>>

September 2, 2008

prey distribution
Deconstructing the DietNew Model May Help to Quantify Prey Consumption Studying the diet of marine mammals can reveal important information about their ecological role. But traditional techniques of analyzing diet are imperfect. Recently, Consortium researchers tested a model designed to determine the relative proportions of prey consumed by harbor seals. The innovative process examines the unique chemical remnants of prey that are incorporated into the seal’s living blubber.See full story >>

July 21, 2008

Harbor seals Harbor seals at the Vancouver Aquarium
Hormone Changes Shed Light on Nutritional Stress

Steller sea lions have different energetic needs in each season—and in each season the body responds differently to food shortages. Recently, scientists examined the seasonal changes in hormone levels in Steller sea lions under a restricted diet. They found that sea lions are most vulnerable to food shortages at times of year when key human fisheries, which compete for the same prey, are most active.

See full story >> June 23, 2008

Hormone changes shed light on nutritional stress

Treading Lightly in Breeding Areas

Scientists Seek to Reduce Disturbance on Rookeries

Steller sea lion researchers face a dilemma: how can biological field samples be collected from breeding sea lions without disturbing them? New research suggests an approach that may paint an accurate dietary picture while reducing the presence of scientists in sensitive areas.

See full story >> June 2, 2008

collecting scat

A Meeting of Minds Workshop brings scientists together to seek common solutions

Studying marine mammals in a captive environment has made a valuable contribution to marine science and conservation. But this branch of science can be challenging, expensive, and controversial. In November 2007, a group of scientists attended a two-day workshop entitled “Marine Mammals in the Lab: Tools for Conservation and Science”, to address common challenges faced by the community of researchers who study captive marine mammals.

See full story >> May 12, 2008

fahlman study
Fast Foraging Scientists Measure Underwater Acceleration in Three Dimensions What is the best way to measure the energy expended by diving Steller sea lions? A new study tests underwater acceleration as a novel way to estimate the energetic cost of foraging.See full story >> April 21, 2008
fahlman study
From the Field: Tagging Transient Killer
Whales in Southeast Alaska:
Part II: Night-time Follow and Tag RecoveryKiller whale researcher Volker Deecke reports from
Southeast Alaska on his study of the nocturnal hunting habits of
transient killer whales. In the second of two instalments, Deecke
describes the challenges of tracking a group of killer whales through
the fjords to recover a valuable data tag.See full story >> March 25, 2008
listening to Killer whales
Accelerating Research

How can we determine where and when sea lions and fur seals capture prey? Researchers working at the Vancouver Aquarium are developing novel technology that they hope will answer this question. A recent video-report prepared by the Content Production Group of the Vancouver Aquarium provides fascinating insights into how this intriguing question is being solved.

see more>>March 4,2008

From the Field: Part 1: Tagging Transient Killer
Whales in Southeast Alaska

Killer whale researcher Volker Deecke reports
from Southeast Alaska on his study of the nocturnal hunting habits
of transient killer whales. In the first of two instalments, Deecke
describes observing and recording two predation events in one day.

See full story >> February 13, 2008

Killer whale research


A year in the life of Consortium research Can entire populations of Steller sea lions virtually disappear in less than 40 years? And if so, which of nature’s mechanisms determine the success or failure of these populations? Is human activity to blame, or are they simply casualties of the ocean around them?

Dozens of Consortium scientists are working collaboratively to answer these questions and many more. This report represents a year of their work and findings.


See full story >>30 January 2008


Killer whale research


Journey Across
the Bering Sea: Tracking Tag Found on Remote Beach, Yields Valuable Dive
This past summer, a Consortium tracking
tag was found on a remote Western Alaska beach after traveling
over 1,400 miles (2,260 km) across the Bering Sea in less than
four years. The tag’s data provided a glimpse into the
life of a young Steller sea lion, furthering efforts to understand
the fine-scale diving behavior of sea lions in Southeast Alaska.

See full story >>

January 10, 2008



Decisions at Depth

In the daily search for food, diving marine
mammals must make the best use of the oxygen in a single breath
of air. Their need to breathe air is a well-documented limitation
on foraging. But new research suggests that competing demands
for metabolic energy – acquiring prey, digesting prey
and staying warm – are also important considerations
in the study of foraging behavior.

See full story >>

November 29, 2007


Appetite for Destruction? New Research Puts Killer Whale
Predation in Context
Are commercial whaling and hungry killer
whales to blame for western Alaska’s sea lion woes?
A team of researchers tested this hypothesis by examining
the changes that occurred in other North Pacific ecosystems
where whaling occurred.What happened after the last whale
was landed?


See full story >>

November 5, 2007



In Pursuit
of Prey New Research Studies Foraging Behavior in Trained Sea

Do sea lions forage at an optimal depth?
Do they prefer a specific density and type of prey? By observing
the foraging decisions made by trained sea lions, scientists
are working to better understand the metabolic requirements
and foraging behavior of sea lions in the wild.

See full story >> October 17, 2007

sea lion underwater


An Ocean Divided A New
Approach to Classifying Marine Ecosystems

Ecosystem mapping has long been used to
help terrestrial ecologists understand how organisms interact
within a discrete environment. But in the ever-changing ocean,
determining the boundary between ecosystems can be a challenge.
New research suggests a method for mapping marine ecosystems
by combining satellite images and oceanographic data.

See full story >> October 1, 2007

Surveying Sea Lion
Diets in Southeast Alaska

Sea lions require energy for swimming,
foraging, nursing and breeding – and a shift in their
diet can have dramatic consequences for entire populations.
A new study investigates the diet of sea lions in Southeast
Alaska, with a view to better understanding why that population
increased while Western Alaskan sea lions declined in recent

See full story >> September 17, 2007

DNA Analysis Provides
Dietary Clues

Scientists studying the diets of Steller
sea lions have come up with an innovative use of DNA analysis
to determine the relative proportions of prey in sea lion
feces. A new study tests the accuracy of this novel technique,
and assesses its potential use in sea lions and other animals.

See full story >> August 24, 2007

Home on the Coast

What do sea lions look for in a home?
Why do they inhabit some shorelines and ignore others? By
studying the physical characteristics of sea lion haulouts
and rookeries, scientists hope to better understand which
factors determine the resting and breeding sites of sea lions.

See full
story >>
25 July 2007

Sound Playback to Study Marine Mammals in the Field

Sound is king in the murky world beneath
the waves. But how do marine mammals use sound to communicate,
find food, and avoid danger? A recent study reviews dozens
of experiments that played back recorded sounds to marine
mammals in their natural habitat, in order to better understand
their response to predators, prey, and each other.

See full
story >>
5 July 2007

Spectogram (a visual representation
of sound) of a killer whale calls.

To the Depths
on a Breath
In sea lions how much energy
does a diving sea lion obtain from single breath of air?
A group of scientists recently measured oxygen consumption
in trained Steller sea lions diving in the open ocean.
The results are helping to explain the behaviour of foraging
sea lions in the wild.
See full story >>11 June 2007

Life in the
Fasting Lane

Is age and season the secret
to surviving lean times?

Periodic fasting is a way of life for
Steller sea lions. But when prey is scarce, a prolonged fast
can be disastrous. Are sea lions better able to tolerate
fasting at certain ages and specific times of year? A new
study asks these questions and more.

See full story >>

7 May 2007


Grooming the Kelp

Is there a universal link
between otters, urchins and kelp?

What happens to a marine ecosystem when
its key predator disappears? A group of scientists examined
the complex relationship between sea otters, sea urchins,
and the kelp forest. Their results suggest that removing
sea otters can have unexpected results that appear to vary

See full story >> 24 April 2007

Killers in the
Dark – the night-time behavior of mammal-eating killer

Mammal-eating killer whales have tremendous
appetites and could exert substantial predation pressure
on their prey populations, yet next to nothing is known about
what these animals do at night. Some of the first insights
are now coming in thanks to the use of innovative digital
recording tags.

See full
story >>
11 April 2007


Part 6: Steller Sea Lion Research Movie Solving the Sea Lion

How is it that an animal that was once
so abundant and so magnificent has disappeared in such a
short period of time? Solving this mystery requires an integrated
research program that involves laboratory, captive and field
studies. Join Dr. Andrew Trites as he shows how researchers
are bringing all three approaches together to solve this
puzzle once and for all.

See full story >>

March 26, 2007


Sea Change:Ocean Climate and the Shifting Fortunes of Alaska’s Steller Sea Lions

While many hypotheses have been presented
to explain the decline of Western Alaska’s Steller
sea lions, no single explanation has uncovered an underlying
cause. Recently, however, a team of scientists reviewed the
evidence that an abrupt shift in ocean climate in the late
1970s may have set the stage for the far-reaching changes
evident today. Their “ocean climate hypothesis” seeks
to provide a single framework to explain and unite these
various theories.

See full story >> 5 March 2007



Turning Point:
Analyzing the Physics of Foraging

What’s in a turn? To begin to
understand how much energy a swimming sea lion uses to out-maneuver
predators and prey, scientists analyzed the dynamics of a
simple 180° turn. Their results showed that Steller sea
lions are among the most maneuverable of the marine mammals.

See full
story >>
15 February


the Surface:
Ecosystem Models
Reveal Subtle Interactions

Was the decline of Steller sea lions
caused by fishing, ocean climate change, or predation by
killer whales? Results from a recently published study that
reconstructed the marine ecosystems of the Aleutian Islands
and Southeast Alaska provides a fresh perspective.

See full
story >>
31 January 2007

Part 5: Steller Sea Lion
Research Movie Hazy’s Trial

Hazy, a hand-raised Steller sea lion,
has begun a second set of studies to determine how much energy
sea lions use to dive and find food at different depths.
Join Hazy and her trainer as they work together to unravel
another of nature’s mysteries in this video report from the

See full story >> 15 January 2007

Summer Field Season
Field Update #5: Far From the FieldResearcher Pamela Lestenkof spent
the summer at her home in the remote Pribilof Islands, where she studied the foraging behavior of the island’s fur seal population. Now back at her home-away-from-home
at the University of British Columbia, the next phase of
her research begins. In this final field update she describes
the months of data analysis ahead, which she expects will
yield valuable information about the degree of spatial
overlap between fur seal habitat.

See full
4 December 2006

Season of the Sea
Are the impacts of nutritional stress seasonally dependent?If you crave salad in summer and
comfort food in winter, you are not alone: the diets of many
people – and even animals such as Steller sea lions – also
vary with the seasons. But sea lions do not always get enough
of the right type of food, and a new study of their dietary
patterns shows that food shortages in different seasons can
have dramatically different effects.See full
20 November 2006

Summer Field Season
Field Update #4: Wrapping up a successful
field seasonFur seal biologist Pamela Lestenkof
reflects on a successful summer of research in the remote
Pribilof Islands. In this update she details some of the
trials and tribulations of her field research, as she prepares
to return home to analyze the data she collected over the
summer months.See full
6 November 2006


the Depths on a Single Breath How much energy
does a diving sea lion use?

What’s in a breath of air? For
Steller sea lions, whose bodies are finely tuned for diving,
a single breath is all it takes to dive as deep as 100m in
search of food. Recently scientists studied a trio of trained
Steller sea lions – diving in the open water – to
find out how the depth and distance of a dive affected how
much energy they require.

See full
23 Oct. 2006


In the last half of the 20th
century, a new top predator has emerged in the world’s
oceans: humans. While human fisheries handily out-consume
and out-compete other marine life, it is difficult to estimate
the extent to which human activities affect entire ecosystems.
In a new study, Drs. Andrew Trites, Villy Christensen and
Daniel Pauly examine the differences between fisheries
and traditional top predators.

See full story>> 2 October 2006


Summer Field
Season 2006 Field Update #3: Tracking
fur seals in the Bering Sea

In her third update from the
remote Pribilof Islands, field researcher Pamela Lestenkof
describes how she tracks northern fur seals on their week-long
foraging trips. Using special tags, she seeks to understand
which parts of the Bering Sea are important foraging grounds
for fur seals, and whether these areas overlap with commercial

See full
story >>
25 September 2006


Lions of the world book announcement
Sea Lions of the
World brought the world community of sea lion authorities to
Alaska to address current knowledge of world sea lion populations
in order to compare them with Steller sea lions and identify
areas for further research. The outcome of five days of meetings
and presentations are contained in a recently published book.

See full
12 September 2006

Summer Field
Season 2006 Field Update #2: Living off the
In her second
update from the Pribilof Islands, Researcher Pamela Lestenkof
describes the annual fur seal subsistence harvest – an
important tradition for Pribilof Islanders. She uses the
opportunity to gather some valuable data on the size and
growth rates of local fur seals.See full
31 August 2006

A  Less-than-Steller Field
In early summer, a legal dispute
erupted between the National Marine Fisheries Service and
the U.S. Humane Society that put an immediate halt to all
field research on Steller sea lions in U.S. waters. While
a few activities have since resumed, the loss of an entire
season of data has jeopardized many long-term studies.
Has this well-intentioned effort actually compromised the
work of dozens of researchers working to save a species?See full
21 August 2006

Summer Field Season
2006 Field Notes from
the Pribilof Islands Investigating the Northern Fur Seal Decline
It is summer in the Bering Sea, and graduate student Pamela Lestenkof has
returned to her home in the Pribilof Islands in time for the arrival of
thousands of northern fur seals who breed here each year. Lestenkof will
spend the summer studying the foraging ecology of these protected animals
in an effort to understand why their populations are dwindling. In the
first of a series of exclusive field reports, Lestenkof discusses her research
and life in the Pribilofs.See full
story >>
26 July 2006

in the Pribilofs Consortium
researchers set sights on northern fur seals
Each summer, nearly three-quarters
of the world’s northern fur seals (Callorhinus ursinus)
migrate to a small island chain in the eastern Bering Sea.
Once hunted to near-extinction, fur seals made a remarkable
comeback over the past century. But today’s populations are
declining once again, and Consortium scientists are working
to identify the causes. New research and a new section on this
website address the plight of Alaska’s northern fur seals.See full story>>12 July 2006

northern fur seal (Callorhinus ursinus)

Feast, Famine & the
Maternal Instinct
During the first two years of life,
South American sea lions survive on mother’s milk and
are frequently left unattended on shore while the mother forages
for fish. When prey is plentiful, foraging trips are short.
But during ocean climate events such as El Niño, fish
can become scarce—and a prolonged foraging trip by a
nursing sea lion can mean starvation for her pup. A new study
suggests that the pattern of maternal attendance among female
South American sea lions could be a reliable indicator of environmental
change in the ocean.

See full
story >>
14 June 2006


From Milk
to Fish

The weaning of Steller sea lions
in Alaska

Along the shores of Alaska’s rugged coast, female
Steller sea lions struggle against the odds to raise their
young. As the pups wean from mother’s milk and learn
to forage for themselves, they are especially vulnerable
to shortages in prey. A new study examines how the age of
weaning might be linked to nutritional stress and, ultimately,
the decline of Steller sea lion populations in western Alaska.

See full story >> 17 May 2006


the Trail of the Kodiak Killers

In the waters
off Kodiak, Alaska, a group of six mammal-eating transient
killer whales displays an unusual dietary preference: they
appear to hunt only Steller sea lions. Their efficiency
at hunting these otherwise challenging prey has earned
them the nickname “Kodiak Killers”.
Biologist Craig Matkin is studying the impacts of the Kodiak
Killers on local sea lion populations and the surrounding

See full
story >>
3 April 2006


Steller Sea Lion Research:

A six part movie series- Episode 4

Hazy’s Progress

Late last year, Vancouver Aquarium
and Marine Science Centre staff transferred a Steller sea
lion named Hazy to an innovative open water research site.
There, she is helping scientists to understand how much energy
she uses when diving and foraging at depth.

See full
1 March 2006


Ring Neck

As we explored some of the most pristine
areas of the coast, I was struck by the picturesque beauty
and rugged expanse of our coast. What I was not prepared
for, however, was my introduction to ring-necks.

See full

8 February 2006

Steller Sleuths Predict Probability of Extinction Is the extinction of Steller sea lions
just a matter of time? A recently published paper explores
the past, and makes some predictions for what lies ahead
for sea lions in western Alaska.See full

23 January 2006


Sea Lion Research: A six part series
Part 3: Panning for GoldOne of the
best ways to determine what goes into the diet of a Steller
sea lion is to measure what comes out the other end. This
procedure, called scat analysis, helps scientists to better
understand what sea lions eat. In the long run, it may
help to conserve wild populations.See full
6 January 2006

of Disease

Disease is among the many possible causes
behind the decline of Alaska’s Steller sea lions. But while the
pattern of decline is consistent with a disease outbreak, researchers
face a lack of material evidence such as infected carcasses. A
recent study searched for more circumstantial proof—a presence
or absence of disease antibodies in Steller sea lion populations—to
answer some key questions.

See full
story >>
30 November 2005

A Wrap: The 2005 Field Season in Review

Killer whales, gray whales, northern fur
seals, Steller sea lions and a giant squid made for a varied and
fascinating field season that extended from British Columbia to
the Pribilof Islands in the Bering Sea.

See full story>> 14 November 2005

To many, the world’s scientific collections
represent an odd and almost macabre assortment of biological
specimens and artifacts. Far from simply hoarding the spoils
of scientific plunder, however, these collections are a
veritable treasure trove of information. A team of researchers
recently embarked on an ambitious survey of the world’s collected
Steller sea lion skulls in order to gain a glimpse into their
subject’s past. What they learned may help to ensure a future
for today’s dwindling Alaskan Steller sea lion populations.Seefull story>>

October 2005

Frenzy: How Much Scat is Enough?

In the race to understand the possible link
between diet and the decline of sea lions in Alaska, researchers
have been hauling out thousands of bags of scats from offshore
rocks and islands to pan for fish bones. But have they been
collecting enough?

Seefull story>> 26 September 2005

Sea Lion Research: A six part series

1: A Relationship of Trust

Obtaining research data from an Steller sea
lion that outweighs a human by hundreds of pounds is no small
feat. But for sea lion trainer Billy Lasby, it’s a simple recipe
of patience, trust and hard work. The first episode in a six-part
series examining the Steller Sea Lion Research Project at the
Vancouver Aquarium.

Seefull story >>9
September 2005

The Field:
Steller Watch- A Year in the Life of a Sea LionA small but intrepid group of scientists is spending a year
observing Steller sea lions on a small remote Island in Alaska.
This update on their study and experiences is just in.See full
16 August 2005
Steller sea lion watch

Lipids! In Search of the Ultimate Steller Diet

If you think
choosing a healthy diet for yourself is difficult, imagine how
challenging it is for scientists to figure out what kind of
fish are best for Steller sea lions. Scientists are trying to
determine whether a change in fish stocks in Western Alaska
may have put the entire Steller sea lion population in jeopardy.
A recent study on Steller sea lions at the Vancouver Aquarium
explored the physiological effects of high-lipid (fatty) and
low-lipid (lean) diets on sea lion health, reproduction, and

Seefull story>> 14 June 2005

a Stink Over Sea Lions

Scientists studying the sharp population
decline of Alaska’s Steller sea lions are literally trying to
resolve the mystery from the inside out using DNA analysis.

See full story>>25 April 2005

‘Sound’ Approach to Assessing Fish Stocks

attention has been given until now on how to assess the abundance
of prey species that are eaten by Steller sea lions, but are
of no interest to commercial fisheries.

See full
4 April 2005


Hips and shoulders pose a particular challenge
for Steller sea lions when it comes to staying warm in the frigid
waters of the North Pacific.

See full story>> 21
March 2005

A recently published study on the nutritional
value of pollock has found that roe-bearing fish contain less
nutritional energy than pre-spawning ones — a finding
that bodes poorly for Steller sea lion populations.See full
story >>
7 March 2005
Milk stealing might seem like an enticing
option for a starving pup on the lookout for nourishment. Yet,
this option is rarely acted on, with most pups opting to starve
rather than face the hazards. Two astonishing observations of
suckling pups have shed greater light on this issue and the
questions that surround the timing of weaning.See full story>> 21 February 2005
Moves to the Open Water
Watch “Hazy’s Moving Day”,
our small movie that documents and discusses Hazy’s contribution
to Steller sea lion research as she joins the Open Water Research
Project.See full
7 February 2005

Killer Whales: Hunting With the Strong, Silent Type

A research team set out to study the
vocal communications of mammal-eating killer whales and found
a powerful tool to study their predatory behavior. How do you
know when a group has made a kill? Listen to the whales –
they will usually let you know.

See full story>> 21 January 2005

Volker Deecke photo

American Sea Lions

What happens to a population of South
American sea lions when a change in ocean currents causes their
food supply to virtually disappear?

A five-year study investigating
the effects of El Niño on sea lions in Peru’s Ballestas
Islands produced some interesting answers to this question, and
provided valuable information about how female sea lions survive
unexpected food shortages.

See full story>> 6 January 2005

High-Tech Solutions Help Solve Dietary Puzzle Are seals and sea lions eating more octopus
or salmon than we think? A team of molecular scientists and
geneticists has been called in to try to solve a long-standing
problem.See full story>> 22 November 2004

Accolades for Open Ocean Research Project
The Steller Sea Lion Open Ocean Research Project is making waves
in Sweden where the International Marine Animal Training Association
recently met.

See full story>> 9 November 2004

and Compensation in Young Steller Sea Lions

How does a sea lion know how much to eat,
and how does it compensate if there is a change in the types or
amounts of fish available to them? Insights into these intriguing
questions are available from a recently published study.
See full story >>

18 October 2004

sea lion being fed

Whales: Easier to See or to Hear?

Researchers have traditionally used ship-based
sighting surveys to determine how many killer whales occur in
a given area. Recent research suggests that tapping into their
underwater communication may be a better way to find killer whales.

See full story>>

4 October 2004

Steller Watch Two seasoned biologists are set
to live for one year amongst 600 Steller sea lions on a mall
remote island in Alaska.  Project “Steller Watch”
is underway. 

See full story>> 14 September 2004

camera on steller watch


Had enough of sea lions? Check out our web
site’s newest addition: a section entirely devoted to
the study of killer whales!

See full story>> 16 August 2004

Killer whale

Big is Big?
Determining the size of pollock consumed by sea lions using
defecated bones is not as straightforward as one might think.
Three recently published studies have developed a new method
for reconstructing size that shows that sea lions have been
eating much bigger pollock than originally thought.

See full story>> 12 July 2004

Furry Transmitters

Twenty-one young Steller sea lions have been
swimming around Southeast Alaska for the past 3-6 months with
a variety of data-loggers and tracking devices on their heads
and backs. Help is needed to find these transmitters.

See full story>> 16 June 2004

data logger

the Sea Lion Puzzle
Fishing, killer
whales, commercial whaling, junk food and regime shifts? Research
results presented in Kodiak Alaska suggest that ocean climate
may be the key piece to resolving the mystery of the disappearing
sea lions.

See full story >> 14 May 2004

Dr. Andrew Trites with Steller in background

the Hot Sauce!

You know that warm
feeling you get after a large meal? Consortium researchers have
been conducting experiments to determine whether Steller sea
lions can use the heat generated by digestion to help stay warm
in frigid Alaskan waters. The results of a new scientific publication
may surprise you!

See full
story >>
7 April 2004

Tranier feeding steller sea lion


Looking into the
Steller’s future requires more than a crystal ball. Whether
or not the Steller sea lion will go extinct in Alaska is debatable,
but preliminary results of a population viability analysis suggest
that sea lions in some regions of Alaska may fare better than
others. See full story >> 8 March 2004


Killer whales have been fingered as
a prime suspect in the disappearance of sea lions in the Gulf
of Alaska and Aleutian Islands. A recently published study peered
into the stomachs of dead killer whales and asked mariners about
their observations to assess the strength of evidence supporting
the hypothesis that killer whales are a major predator of sea
lions. To learn more about these killer diets.

see full story >> 23 February 2004

steller sea lion flipper tags flipper tags from Steller sea lions

found in killer whale stomach

Pup and Adult Interactions Top notch training and a core group of
13 steller sea lions lie at the heart of the Consortium’s successful
captive research program.See  full story >> 11 February 2004
Adult and pup Steller sea lions
Marine Ecoregions using Physical Oceanography
Dividing the North Pacific Ocean into
Ecoregions that reflect fish habitat and the abundance of fish
available to Steller sea lions is no small challenge. But progress
is being made one grid cell at a time from Washington to Alaska!See full story >> 21 January 2004
Oceanic ecoregions

Searchable Bibliography
You can learn more about what scientists
have discovered about Steller sea lions over the past two centuries
using our new online Steller sea lion searchable bibliography.
Our search engine allows you to find sea lion articles by year,
author or keywords.

See full
story >>
January 2004

Steller sea lion group

to Sea with Sea Lions!

For most animals, their top priority is to
find enough quality food while avoiding predators. Steller sea
lions are no exception. Understanding how they achieve these
activities is fundamental to figuring out why some sea lion
populations are fairing better than others.

See full
story >>
November 17 2003


additions to the Steller Research Team!
Five Steller sea
lion pups have joined the research team in Vancouver to understand
why the western population has been declining in Alaska. To
find out more about their upbringing and research contribution.
See full
24 October 2003

& Passage Times

How long does it take a fish to pass through
a sea lion’s gut? And what species are most likely to make it
to the bitter end? Results from a recently published study are

See full story>> 14 October 2003


from the Field

Consortium researchers recently wrapped
up a successful summer field season in the Aleutian Islands,
Gulf of Alaska, Southeast Alaska and British Columbia. The studies
focused on killer whale predation, Steller sea lion diets and
the effects of human disturbance on sea lions.

See full
29 September 2003

Sea Lions Join Open Ocean
Research Program
Two sea lions recently moved from the
Vancouver Aquarium to a waterfront research station to prepare
for upcoming open water studies. This marks the first time that
anyone has ever studied trained Steller sea lions in the wild.
To learn more about this exciting new project.

see full
17 September 2003



A recently published review provides new
insights into the role that disease may have played in the decline
of Steller sea lions in Alaska.

3 September 2003

Rate & Energetics

Estimating how much food Steller sea lions
are consuming in Alaska might just be a heart beat away.

16 June 2003



Are Steller sea lions nutritionally
stressed? The answer is contained in a recent publication that
reviewed 3 decades of research findings.
See full
story >>
28 April 2003

Steller sea lions off the east coast of Alaska Steller’s off the east coast of Alaska

Appetites in Western Alaska
Results from the winter killer whale
count are still being compiled. Meanwhile, preliminary results
are in from the first of a three-year in-depth study of killer
whale predation on Steller sea lions in western Alaska.

See full story>> 7 April 2003

killer whale dorsal fin

Webs: Who Eats Whom and How Much?
Answers to this question are contained
in a recent review of marine food webs and the amounts of food
that marine organisms consume. Insights into the decline of Steller
sea lions are also drawn from a food web analysis.

story >>
March 2003

Bering sea food web

Scales and Sea Lions
Sediment cores from the
bottom of the ocean are helping researchers to reconstruct the
past so that changes observed today can be put into context
with changes that have gone on for hundreds to thousands of

story >>
3 March 2003

Bottom core back on land


Steller sea lions prey on many species
of fish. A recent publication has estimated how much sea lions
consume in Alaska. To obtain a copy and learn more about the study.

See  full story
3 February 2003

Steller sea lions diet chart

sea rats?

A recently published paper in the British
Journal of Nutrition used lab rats to examine the possible effects
of pollock and herring on the growth and reproductive success
of Steller sea lions.

See full
20 January 2003

of Prey
How big are the fish that Steller sea
lions eat, and how can you determine this from fecal remains?
Consortium researchers are solving this puzzle with some help
from Steller sea lions at the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science
Centre.See full
Story >>
6 January 2003

Depression in Steller sea lions

Getting less to eat would make anyone
upset. A recent study by Consortium scientists has revealed that
inadequate food supplies can make Steller sea lions outright depressed
(in a physiological sense)!

story >>
13 Nov 2002

steller sea lions resting Resting Steller sea lions

sea lion house party!

Renovations are now complete on an
exciting new Steller sea lion research facility. For a behind
the scenes

See Full story
30 Oct 2002

steller sea lion in new research area Steller sea lion in new research area


Researchers don’t know what role sleeper
sharks and salmon sharks may have played in the decline of Steller
sea lions. Some suspect they are major predators of Steller
sea lions while others think they are more of a competitor than
a predator. To get to the bottom of this mystery, shark researchers
are calculating numbers of sharks with one hand, while live-capturing
and releasing sharks with the other -and they have their hands

See full story >> 16 October 2002

Sharks being prepared for measurement researchers preparing to

measure shark

sea lion Regime Shifts

Steller sea lions, harbour seals and
northern fur seals experienced declines beginning in the late
1970s in parts of Alaska. Other species such as king crabs,
shrimp and herring also appear to have declined, while pollock
and arrowtooth flounder increased. Some researchers have linked
these sharp changes in abundances to regime shifts. A recently
published review of the effects of regime shifts on the North
Pacific by Ashleen Benson and Andrew Trites delves into this
complex subject and draws a sobering conclusion for fisheries

Full story
1 Oct 2002

Steller sea lion, seals etc

One Fish, Two Fish, Three Fish, Blue Fish! Remains from over 20,000 fish were recovered and counted from
the scats of Steller sea lions at the Vancouver Aquarium. Recently
published results from this study reveal differences between
species of fish that affect the reliability of dietary estimates
made from scats collected in the field. For all the numbers,
and all the stats see.

See full

8 August 2002

Blue rockfish skeleton
of the Sea Lion Swimming Competition are Out!
In the world of Otariid Olympics, the bulk of Steller sea lions
would seem ideal for a sport like weight lifting. But a recently
published study by Consortium scientists has shown that they
can also compete against their fellow marine mammals in the
swimming events! Full story>> 17 July 2002
Steller sea lion swimming


Steller sea lions can not wear sweaters,
so how do they stay warm in the cold Alaskan water? M.Sc. candidate
Kate Willis is conducting experiments to determine just how
much energy they use when swimming in waters of different temperatures.

Full story>> 24 June 2002

Satiated Sea

How much fish, could a sea lion steal, if a sea lion could
steal fish? Consortium researchers want to find out!

story >>

22 May 2002

Sea lion feeding from trough
much food do Steller sea lions need?
A recently published paper has an answer to this question that
provides insight into why young sea lions are more at risk from
nutritional stress than their parents. Full
story >>
24 April 2002
Differences in food consumption


Winter is commonly thought to be the most critical time in
the life history of young Steller sea lions. Some have speculated
that young sea lions are unable to dive as deep as their mothers
during winter and cannot obtain enough to eat. A recently published
study by Andrew Trites and Boyd Porter questions this conclusion
based on behavioral observations of pups, yearlings and mothers
at a winter haulout site in Alaska. Full
story >>
3 April 2002

Researchers making

behavioral observations

Dem Bones!

Biologists are applying cutting edge techniques to determine
what happened to Steller sea lions. One of these techniques
– Stable isotope Analysis – uses the concentration of different
forms of carbon and nitrogen in bones to estimate changes in
the productivity of the ecosystem, or changes in where in the
food web animals are feeding. Amy Hirons, Don Schell and Bruce
Finney recently studied the bones of Steller sea lions, northern
fur seals and harbour seals collected in Alaska from 1951 to
1997. Their recently published study suggests that productivity
in the North Pacific may be lower today than in the past when
pinniped populations were significantly larger. Full story >> 21 March 2002

Skull of a 6 year old Steller sea lion

Are you what you

A promising new technique is being tested using two captive
Steller sea lions to determine dietary history and foraging
ecology. Full story
4 March 2002

for Bones:
The principal way to determine what sea lions eat is to identify
what bones are contained in their scats (feces). Full story >> 18 February 2002
Dish with sorted Pollock bones
Steller Sea Lion Pups
In the summer of 2000 Consortium Scientists brought 5 Steller
sea lion pups to the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre.
The pups are now 1.5 years old. Here is an update on how the
research is going. Full
story >>

7 January 2002

Steller sea lion pups
Whiskers Steller sea lions’ whiskers and bones contain elements of the
food they eat. Dr. Amy Hirons from the University of Alaska Fairbanks
has been studying the concentration of stable isotopes in these
whiskers. She has been looking for whether the concentration in
whiskers collected over 5 decades has changed. Full
story >>
26 November 2001
Steller sea lion whiskers
Our freezers are almost empty! Since July, technicians have
been busy cleaning 1,200 Steller sea lion scats (feces) collected
in southeast Alaska and British Columbia. Full
story >>
13 November 2001
An undigested angular from pollock on right (digested on

The latest additions to the Vancouver
Aquarium Marine Science Centre family only arrived in mid August,
but already they’re helping shed light on the habits and physiology
of their species.

Full story >>> August 2001

image of sea lion pups
Steller Stories Georg Wilhelm Steller published the first scientific paper on
Steller sea lions in 1751. Since then over 271 papers and articles
have been written about Steller sea lions. Find out more about
what scientists have learned over the past two centuries from
a recently published annotated bibliography. Full
story >>
2 Nov. 2001