Seals, sea lions studied to track fish health

Biologists are scouring Puget Sound for answers about why some fish are disappearing.

Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists are tracking seals and sea lions to better understand why salmon and steelhead are on a downward spiral.

One part of the study involves collecting seal scat, or feces, which they will send to a lab.

"We're going to take DNA samples from this. The lab will process that. They'll be able to tell what kind of fish is in the poo," Josh Oliver with WDFW said.

The scat will paint a new landscape for scientists, one that looks a lot less like the natural beauty tourists see on a clear day around Puget Sound.

"Right now it kind of looks like Puget Sound is sick," Steve Jeffries with WDFW said.

Salmon and steelhead are listed by the Endangered Species Act. Predators may be one reason why.

Another puzzle piece involves gluing computerized backpacks to seals. They'll use these computer packs to track them.

"It's glued to the fur of the seal or sea lion," Jeffries said. "It will probably carry this pack for eight or nine months."

The waterproof gear will receive signals from juvenile fish also tagged with transmitters. That way, scientists can see when prey and predator cross paths.

"It's collecting information on location, dive depth, water temperature, whether it's wet or dry, every second," Jeffries said.

Every year, seals molt and get a new set of fur. That means the packs fall off and often float away.

The computer pack is expensive. The data is priceless. Sometimes, scientists spend months looking for the packs.

"We're investing a lot of money in recovering salmon stocks, different species, and this is one piece of the puzzle," Jeffries said.  "It's a part of a magnificent environment we live in. It's the reason people live in the Northwest. We want Puget Sound to thrive, and we want the species in Puget Sound to thrive."

© 2017 KING-TV


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