Alaskan waters growing hospitable to sharks while seals and sea lions decline

Salmon shark fins cut the surface of the water. A spotter in an Alaska Fish and Game plane on an annual survey of sea otters estimates there are hundreds of fins in the small bay near Port Gravina, Prince William Sound.

More sharks mass unseen below the surface. All are likely feasting on a run of salmon returning to spawn in nearby rivers and creeks.

That aerial count would be a high number of sharks in one spot for any place in the world, said Vince Gallucci, University of Washington professor of fisheries and aquatic sciences. Gallucci, who has studied shark population dynamics for more than a decade, the last two years in Alaska, organized and is a speaker in the Saturday, Feb. 16, session Not Enough Sea Lions, Too Many Sharks: Global Warming Signal? during the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Boston.

In the last two years of work in Prince William Sound, with cooperation from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service, Gallucci says six salmon sharks an hour could be caught during certain times of day.

And sometimes, lines were in the water less than 2 minutes before a salmon shark bit.

Meanwhile the number of Pacific sleeper sharks encountered by halibut fishing vessels has increased every year since 1997, more than doubling, according to a database made available to Gallucci by the Pacific Halibut Commission.

All this in a place where fishermen haven't talked of sharks in such abundance in the past. Gallucci says a Fairbanks-based audio producer specializing in environmental stories has reported that fishermen, both commercial and tribal, dont remember encountering many sharks while harvesting salmon and groundfish.

Fishermen wouldn't forget 200-pound animals bending hooks and wrecking their nets, Gallucci said displaying a No. 3 steel halibut circle-hook almost straightened by a salmon shark.

Salmon sharks, 6 to 8 feet long

Contact: Sandra Hines
University of Washington

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