The sea lions in the photo below were hauled out before we flushed them…
…into the water. I was working as a biological technician on an Exxon-Valdez oil spill recovery project in Prince William Sound and the Gulf of Alaska. I won’t get in to the gloom and doom of the spill itself,rather, the inspiration I had while surveying the flora and fauna. I am an admitted bird nerd and at the time of the recovery work I did not know much about marine mammals. Naturally I asked my supervisor a zillion questions about them including,
“why do sea lions haul out?”
I know it seems obvious resting and reproducing, right? Yes, rest periods in between bouts of foraging, predator evasion, thermoregulation, and even parasite reduction.
The haul out in the video is also a rookery. Breeding and rearing of newborns occurs at rookeries. Not all haul outs are used as rookeries during breeding meaning there are fewer rookeries than haul outs. The haul out in the photo above was not a breeding area. Just a resting place.
Haul outs are often segregated by age and sex. In the video you can see the large males mostly off to one side, females and young in the other areas. Breeding may be ongoing for the group in this video as pupping probably occurred throughout June and July (see photos of elephant seals at a haul out site on my Facebook page).
Back to the storyline…
After we flushed the sea lions into the water at Pt. Deborah there on Knight Island my supervisor, another technician, and I stared down the sea lions while we sat in our zodiac (boat) . They were just as curious as us. It seemed like they were trying to get us to move by gesturing their heads much the way you do when trying to mentally steer the direction of an object by moving your head.
In the coming days we would be followed for nearly a day by an immature humpback whale while creeping along the shore at 2 knots in our boat of half the whales length. I saw 1000’s of Harlequin ducks, mergansers, puffins, auklets, murres, murrelets, and so on. At Montague Island there were rafts of sea otters numbering i in the hundreds. Prince William Sound and the Gulf of Alaska were thriving with life. It was a birder and/or wildlife fanatics paradise for two weeks of summer ’99. It only begged the question:
What was it like before the Exxon-Valdez oil spill?
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