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Seals Eaten By Sharks? Blame It On Global Warming!!

September 5, 2014

By Paul Homewood 






It appears that monk seals are becoming an endangered species. A very thoughtful article in the LA Times lists many reasons for this:


Senior scientist Frances Gulland was chasing reports of “thin pups” earlier this week. And it’s the babies that are the focus of this campaign, based out of the new $3.2 million facility in Kona, on the Big Island. The hope is that by saving young monk seals, an entire species will be preserved.

“Four out of five pups are dying,” Gulland told the L.A. Times in an interview Tuesday. “The emphasis is to bring more female pups up to become breeding females.”

There are only about 1,000 Hawaiian monk seals; by comparison, there are 150,000 northern elephant seals worldwide and half a million harbor seals. The monk seal lives and breeds primarily among the isolated Northwestern islands, which extend 1,200 miles northwest of Hawaii’s main islands.

In 2006, the Northwestern region became a national monument, part of a 140,000-square-mile protected marine wonderland that provides a home and breeding grounds for 7,000 species. (Take a quick spin through some of those islands.)

Monk seals, which tend to be solitary, rest on the beaches and volcanic rock of these isolated islands. They swim its blue-green waters and forage its sea beds for food, “going along and turning rocks over” to consume the rockfish that emerge, Gulland said.

The adult seals are silvery gray and grow to 7 or 7 1/2 feet long and 375 to 450 pounds. The babies are about 35 pounds and 3 feet long at birth. They’re much darker than the parent, Gulland said, and have a white patch on their bellies.

Females have only one pup a year, the scientist said. They look for protected, sandy beaches to have their pups, then guard their young, while fasting, for five to six weeks.

The mothers are steadfast and few pups are abandoned, Gulland said. The trouble comes later.

As monk seals teeter on the edge of extinction, survival of juveniles is particularly low and declining. Gulland said just one in five makes it to adulthood, and they’re felled by causes that often can be traced to humans.

The food chain, she said, is distorted in the area from overfishing. Lobster, once a primary source of food for the monk seals, has been heavily overfished. And although the monk seal population has increased recently on the main Hawaiian islands, the encroachment of humans on beaches has affected breeding female seals. More people living on beaches means fewer places where females will go to have their pups.

There have been numerous instances of the seals becoming entangled in marine debris, or becoming sick from embedded or swallowed fish hooks.

Then there’s the legacy of contamination from World War II military activity on Midway Atoll, site of the Battle of Midway. Reefs in the atoll were dredged, filled in and excavated during the war. Bombing destroyed reefs, islets and wildlife. When the atoll became a wildlife refuge in 1996, the U.S. Navy cleaned up debris by the ton, excavated soil contaminated by DDT and PCBs, removed leaky fuel tanks and pulled 90,000 gallons of petroleum product from the groundwater.

The contamination, however, continues to affect the health of marine life, Gulland said.




Now, you say, this is the LA Times, so surely they would blame all this on global warming? And, of course, you would be right.


They continue:

The rise in sea level with climate change has meant that some of the tiny chunks of land the seals depend on are slipping back into the sea. The pups, preyed on by tiger and Galapagos sharks, have become even more vulnerable to attack.

“They have to spend more time on islets that have become more surrounded by sharks,” Gulland said.


Now, I want to be scrupulously fair here, and point out that it is “Senior Scientist” Frances Gulland, who is stating this. However, this is no excuse for the LA Times reporter not to have critically questioned this. One also wonders how much of Gulland’s grant was dependent on her linking the problem to “climate change”.


Still, let’s consider the facts.



NOAA quote five tidal gauges in Hawaii:




So let’s see how much sea levels have rose in recent years, to cause the poor pups to be eaten by those nasty sharks.









It does not take a genius to work out that sea levels have actually declined in the last decade or so. At the longest running gauge in Honolulu, NOAA offer a comparison of 50 yr trends:




The rate of sea level rise in recent decades has been falling, and the fastest rate of rise was in the first half of the 20thC. (The graph shows trends as “centred”, so the maximum rate of rise appears on the graph at around 1930 – this represents the rate of rise over the period 1905-1955).


If the poor seals are really getting eaten by sharks, as a result of sea level rise following the end of the Little Ice Age, then I am very sorry for them. However, I suspect the situation is a tiny bit more complex than the naive LA Times reporter is admitting to!

  1. Ben Vorlich permalink
    September 6, 2014 7:18 am

    Now I thought that:
    1. Sharks have always preyed on seals, and surfers who prey on seals
    2. Many shark species were endangered.
    3. In the wild infant mortality is very high and life expectancy is short
    4. Predator/prey populations are never in equilibrium, one declines ans the other increases until the balance swaps.
    5. Human involvement usually makes a bad situation worse.

    From reading your article both Frances Gulland and the LA Times reporter seem unaware of this so perhaps I’m wrong and it is all down to CO2.

    • Ben Vorlich permalink
      September 6, 2014 7:19 am

      1 surfers who look like seals

  2. Joe Public permalink
    September 6, 2014 7:44 am

    In other news, prominent scientist discovers climate change helps sharks thrive by increasing their food source.

  3. September 6, 2014 8:47 am

    The quantity of misinformation in the world is unbelieveable – may have something to do with the poor educational systems in the Western world.

    • September 6, 2014 9:20 pm

      Spot on Alec! The poor education system is by design. It makes it easier to, in the words of Honest Abe, fool some of the people all of the time by making the population of some larger and larger as the generations pass.

  4. John F. Hultquist permalink
    September 6, 2014 3:19 pm

    The following is an interesting site and I have not read it all but did find Myth versus Fact #8 relevant to this post.

    Fact #8: Monk seals are native to the Hawaiian Islands and the main Hawaiian Island subpopulation is growing naturally, with or without translocation.

  5. Gary H permalink
    September 6, 2014 6:16 pm

    I think that normal tides in HI average only a foot, or two. So, even at a foot (12 inches), which is almost twice the 100 year trend of global rate of sea level rise, one would expect that the sharks must got on a seal feeding frenzy twice a day.

  6. September 7, 2014 12:46 am

    Aren’t there MORE sharks due to fishing laws changing in their favor? And MORE sharks means LESS seals, generally speaking…

  7. September 7, 2014 3:21 pm

    Isn’t the land mass of Hawaii being pushed up by magma and plate tectonics? that would affect the appearance of sea levels falling, and vise-versa.

    • Sean permalink
      September 8, 2014 5:55 pm

      Plate tectonics are moving the Hawaiian Islands to the west-northwest, with each island in turn having drifted off the magma plume that currently sits under the island of Hawai’i. Once an island is no longer being added to by lava flows, the natural erosion process will begin to wear it down until it disappears beneath the ocean. Unfortunately, “Island breeding grounds of monk seals eroding into Pacific Ocean as they have done for millions of years” doesn’t have a newsworthy kick to it (while “[celebrity]’s beach home threatened by cliff erosion” _is_), but if you take ‘climate change’ and attach it to the story to suggest that the ‘plight’ of the monk seals is our fault (which it is, but because of what we did to the islands during WWII, not as a result of climate change), then it becomes sensational enough to flog in the news.

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