Coastal Herring and a Balanced Ecosystem

Monday, March 9, 2020

Captain John Lapp

We are extremely lucky to be operating in such an incredible part of the world. The rich biomass  in the Great Bear Rainforest is second to no other ecosystem in the world. The balance of species thriving off of and supporting each other is apparent everyday. There is a healthy balance that exists because of the predator prey relationship on land and in the ocean. There is an incredible balance where land animals survive in the Great Bear Rainforest because of the abundance of food available to them from the ocean. Species like coastal wolves and bears are very dependent on life that only lives in the ocean.

An amazing example of balance is the annual herring spawn where billions of herring are spread along the coast spawning and while doing so, feeding animals and plants in both the ocean and on land. For some, the arrival of the herring is like a new beginning, the large whales start to arrive to feed, coastal mammals and birds  are feeding on the rich nutrient dense eggs. It is this balance of prey and predator that makes this ecosystem so rich and diverse. The herring and their eggs are so important to the ecosystem feeding, not only the giants of the sea, but also the small animals and birds along the shore.

Seals and sea lions are two species that also take advantage of the herring spawn that is here for a short period of time each year. Here is where the balance of species is interesting, with the increase of these pinnipeds comes an increased concern that pinnipeds are responsible for eating too much herring, Interesting?  It is like these seals and sea lions magically appeared from who knows where to eat only the herring that we as humans desire.

So back to the balance of an ecosystem. Is it our job as humans now to eliminate these pesky pinnipeds that have appeared in huge numbers to balance things out? Is culling the secret to balance? Do we cull a species that is doing what they do naturally?  A species that has been reliant on herring for a long time. And guess what else we see an increase of this time of year, the Transient Killer Whales which feed primarily on seals and sea lions. Hmm… balance!

Another hot topic in the news these days around culling seals and sea lions is the belief that one of the reasons that the southern resident killer whales are in such trouble is their lack of food which are primarily salmon. Are pinnipeds really eating that many salmon and herring which the salmon feed on, recent research suggests no. I do worry when the answer to this problem is humans trying to create balance by killing one species to save another. Balance, is that how we create balance? I challenge you to look at historical culls of animals to see if any have ever been really successful?  And if we are wrong, then what?