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Seal attack!

Posted: September 9, 2011 - 7:00am  |  Updated: September 9, 2011 - 2:44pm

A seal added excitement to the salmon fishing on the Kenai River last week.

Having been skunked on our last few outings, my friend Dillon Kimple had finally hooked a silver. It jumped right next to the boat, a good-sized fish, maybe 12 pounds. I got the landing net ready.

We’d seen a pair of seals, an adult and a juvenile, working Falling In Hole for the previous three hours. Every few minutes, they would surface to breathe. They kept their distance from boats, usually approaching no closer than 50 feet, or so. Once in a while, one would come up with a fish in its mouth. Other than worry about whether the seals would put the fish off the bite, we didn’t fret about them. We’d never had a seal try to take a fish from us, not in the Kenai.

Dillon had “his” silver beside the boat when all hell broke loose. Water flew everywhere. Amidst the chaos, a large, brown shape zipped behind the boat, just below the surface, heading toward the main channel.

“That seal got my fish!” Dillon yelled, reeling in a slack line.

About that time, the seal surfaced about 50 feet away, without the fish. It had apparently escaped both Dillon’s hook and the seal’s jaws.

My curiosity aroused, I decided to learn more about seals. The culprit in this case was a harbor seal (Phoca vitulina), a species widespread in the north Pacific and Atlantic oceans. On the West Coast, it ranges from Baja California through the extent of the Aleutian Islands and north into Bristol Bay.

In May and June, harbor seals like to move to sheltered waterways where females give birth to a single pup, often on an iceberg. They weigh about 24 pounds at birth. Adults average about 180 pounds, with males somewhat larger than females.

Harbor seals prefer waters near shore and river estuaries, though some will swim many miles up rivers. A reliable source once told me he saw one upstream from the Kenai Keys, 45 miles upstream from the mouth of the Kenai. A small resident population lives in Iliamna Lake.

Harbor seals eat fish — pretty much any fish they can catch — as well as clams, mussels and crustaceans. They don’t chew their food, but swallow it whole or tear off chunks. They use their molars to crunch up shells. In one study, “crittercams” were attached to the seal’s heads, and biologists found that prey was consumed underwater.

If you want to blame something for eating a lot of fish, blame birds and other fish, not seals. Studies have shown that salmon are the main food source of harbor seals only when the adult fish are entering rivers to spawn, when they are numerous and have less chance to escape. For a seal, catching a salmon at sea is apparently more work than it’s worth.

Clumsy on land, harbor seals are graceful and quick in the water. They swim by moving their bodies from side to side. Two hind flippers provide propulsion, and two front flippers serve as rudders. While most of their dives are to depths of less than 65 feet and less than 4 minutes long, dives to depths of 1,640 feet and submersions longer than 20 minutes have been recorded.

Seals are hunted and preyed upon by sharks and transient orcas. Scientists estimated that transient orcas ate about 500 of the 1,500 harbor seals in Puget Sound’s Hood Canal in 2003.

Seals play a part in the diet and culture of many Alaska Natives. “Seal camps” are held, where elders teach youngsters to harvest, sew hides and preserve the meat and the oil.

According to the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, only Alaska Natives can legally havest seals and other marine mammals, and then only for subsistence purposes. From 2004 to 2008, subsistence takes of harbor seals averaged about 1,600 annually, down from an annual average of about 2,700 seals from 1992 to 1998.

Now that I know more about harbor seals, I’ll be watching them with new interest. It’ll give me something to do when the fishing is slow, something besides listening to reruns of Dillon’s stories.

Les Palmer can be reached at lpalmer@alaska.net.

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Alaskalad
55
Points
Alaskalad 09/10/11 - 04:57 am
0
0
Halibut seal attack

We just had a like experience at Twin Falls. After gilling a small halibut and hanging it off the side of the boat, a seal took a run at it just as my fishing partner went to pull the Butt back in . After a short tug of war , he won the battle and came out of it with a slashed but edible fish . I attribute all this to Board of Fish inequities of course. Obviously the seals need to be considered a user group and their needs addressed.

thewhop2000
30
Points
thewhop2000 09/10/11 - 02:37 pm
0
0
another user group????

Man, that is all we need. Another allocation priority and a user group to wrestle with at the next BOF. LOL Les, as usual, you give us a fresh perspective. Thanks!!!!!!

AlaskaDude
0
Points
AlaskaDude 09/14/11 - 05:39 am
0
0
Saw a Seal over the weekend

I saw a seal in the Kenai and have pictures of it. We saw it around Super Hole a couple of miles below Skilak.

AKMaineIac
14
Points
AKMaineIac 09/14/11 - 09:44 am
0
0
User groups and allocations

Seals can't vote and they don't have any money or lobbyists... wouldn't worry too much about them if I was a sport fisherman.

The latest incarnation of foolishness from the fish board was amazing to look at. "Conservation"? My behind, "conservation".

One thing driving that, and one thing only. Money from commercial fishermen and lobbyists. Taking from one group and giving to another is not conservation.

Size limits? Okay, if we have to we have to. Those limits apply to EVERYBODY that catches a fish. EVERYBODY.

If the total catch has to be limited, it should be a percentage of the catch from every user group. We'll all share in the gain, we should all share in the pain.

Alaskalad
55
Points
Alaskalad 09/16/11 - 01:17 am
0
0
lighten up

That was (I thought) an obvious attempt at levity. Not everyone wants to argue all the time about everything. Take a break , take a walk, lighten up, maybe you will recognize a joke when one is right in front of you. Or maybe not.

AKMaineIac
14
Points
AKMaineIac 09/16/11 - 09:48 am
0
0
Corrupted public processes...

If the process were not so grotesquely corrupted, and the corrupted were not so pious... the entire situation would be hilarious.

Nothing I wrote that was serious was directed at you. The first sentence was in fact, satirical and a joke. But maybe being followed by a serious statement that was not so obvious.

As far as me recognizing a joke when it's right in front of me goes... you don't know me, don't know a thing about me. I wasn't being "argumentative", believe me.

Alaskalad
55
Points
Alaskalad 09/17/11 - 03:04 am
0
0
Thanks

I think you just proved my point.
If this is you not being argumentative , what are you like when you ARE being argumentative?
Please direct your comments to the BOF , who may be interested. Maybe they would even argue with you .

AKMaineIac
14
Points
AKMaineIac 09/17/11 - 08:55 am
0
0
Anytime

I'll direct my comments where and when I wish. Thank you.

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