TASSC has worked consistently with the National Marine Fisheries Service since 2008 on matters relating to Steller sea lions.
The Steller Sea Lion Biosampling Program was first developed in 2006 through a collaboration between the Alutiiq Tribe of Old Harbor, local sea lion hunters and TASSC. It was refined in 2008 and since that time we have conducted trainings with people from Bristol Bay, Dutch Harbor/Unalaska, Kodiak Island, Kachemak Bay and Prince William Sound.
The intent of the program to give sea lion hunters the tools and information necessary to collect quality biological samples from subsistence hunted or dead stranded sea lions.We developed the sampling protocol to be something that could be conducted quickly in the field, without interfering with typical harvesting activities. The protocol can always be modified, if the hunter or community want to keep a particular item, or if a measure or sample is not feasible to collect.
These samples can provide critical insight into areas such as sea lion reproductive health, contaminant burden, nutritional status, genetics, stress and disease presence and prevalence.
In 2012 & 2013, we worked with the University of Alaska Fairbanks and National Marine Fisheries Service for analysis of kidney, liver, muscle, hair and fat for total mercury, methyl mercury, and selenium. We found that selenium levels were higher than mercury levels in every sample measured. Selenium has a mitigating effecting on the effects of methyl mercury and in the majority of tissues analyzed, the molar ratio of Selenium to Total mercury were well above 1. In liver, the ratio was a little below 1 in most individuals. This is a positive result.
Most recently the biosampling protocols have been modified to streamline the process and to collect samples to test for exposure to Harmful Algal Blooms.
If you are interested in learning more about the program or participating, please contact us!