ANCHORAGE - America's northern fur seal pup population continues a marked decline this decade, federal biologists reported Friday.
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The number of pups born between 2004 and 2006 in Alaska's Pribilof Islands, home of the world's largest rookeries, fell by 9 percent from the previous two-year estimate, according to researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
"We have seen a significant decline in the abundance of fur seals on the Pribilof Islands starting about 1998, and we have not been able to identify the factors responsible," said Doug DeMaster, director of NOAA's Alaska Fisheries Science Center.
Less pollock, herring, squid and other seal food because of global warming or commercial fishing are possibilities, as is increased predation by killer whales. Entanglement in marine debris, parasites, disease and pollutants may have contributed to declines, federal researchers said.
The most recent federal estimate of fur seals in the Eastern Pacific stock is 721,935, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service. The new pup counts likely will mean those figures will go down when the agency updates its population estimate later this year, said NMFS zoologist Rolf Ream.