What is described as a catastrophic decline in the population of the South Atlantic sea lion has prompted some experts to call for it to be officially declared an endangered species, as has happened with the North Pacific Stella sea lion. That has suffered a similar decline for different reasons and has been declared an endangered species by the United States.
Scientists attending the recent South West Atlantic Marine Environment Conference in London were astonished at the severity of the crash in the numbers of sea lions, which are found in the Falkland Islands and all around the South American coast from Uruguay , and Argentina to Chile and Peru.
Dr Jim Reid, from the Sea Mammal Research Unit at Edinburgh's Saint Andrews University, said the numbers in the Falkland Islands dropped by ninety per cent from more than 400,000 in the 1940s to only a few thousand by 1965, and have never recovered. They are still breeding in the same places but in far fewer numbers. At one breeding colony, at Cape Dolphin, conservationists recently counted only 48 sea lion pups, compared with 3,500 in the 1940s. The figures suggest that the population is only two per cent of what it was sixty years ago. A similarly catastrophic drop innumbrs has occurred in Argentina.
In a follow-up interview, Mercopress was told the cause seems to have no connection with fishing. There is another explanation. Regarded as one of the most impressive animals in the Falkland Islands and its most fiercest predator, the sea lion's decline is attributed to an even more prolific predator -- Man.
A comparatively small Falkland Islands cull, killing about 40-thousand sea lions in the 1940s, was greatly exceeded in Argentina where an estimated half -a-million sea lions were killed for their skins for leather and for rendering down into oil. It is believed some of the sea lions shot in Argentina had migrated from the Falkland Islands. Despite the end of hunting of sea lions fifty years ago, their numbers have not gone up again. Conservationists suggest it is time for the governments of the Falkland Islands and its South American neighbours to declare the South Atlantic sea lion an endangered species.
There is a different theory advanced for the decline in North Pacific sea lions, found in the Aleutian Islands and from Alaska down the North American coast to California. Though some conservationists suggest the huge fishery for Alaskan and Pacific hake and pollack could be a contributory factor, others believe the sea lions are suffering not from lack of quantity of food, as there are still massive