Entanglement rates and haulout abundance trends of Steller (Eumetopias jubatus) and California (Zalophus californianus) sea lions on the north coast of Washington state
Entanglements affect marine mammal species around the globe, and for some, those impacts are great enough to cause population declines. This study aimed to document rates and causes of entanglement and trends in local haulout abundance for Steller and California sea lions on the north coast of Washington from 2010–2018. We conducted small boat surveys to count sea lions and document entangled individuals. Rates of entanglement and entangling material occurrence were compared with records of stranded individuals on the Washington and Oregon coast and with packing bands recorded during beach debris surveys. The rate of entanglement for California sea lions was 2.13%, almost entirely composed of adult males, with a peak rate during June and July potentially due to some entangled individuals not migrating to their breeding grounds. For Steller sea lions, the rate of entanglement was 0.41%, composed of 77% adults (32.4% male, 63.3% female), 17.1% juveniles, 5.9% unknown age, and no pups. Steller sea lions exhibited a 7.9% ± 3.2 rate of increase in abundance at the study haulouts, which was similar to that seen in California sea lions (7.8% ± 4.2); both increases were greater than the population growth rates observed range-wide despite high rates of entanglement. Most entanglements for both species were classified as packing bands, followed by entanglement scars. Salmon flashers were also prevalent and only occurred from June–September during the local ocean salmon troll fishery. Packing band occurrence in beach debris surveys correlated with packing band entanglements observed on haulouts. However, no packing band entanglements were observed in the stranding record and the rate of stranded animals exhibiting evidence of entanglement was lower than expected, indicating that entanglement survival is higher than previously assumed. Future studies tracking individual entanglement outcomes are needed to develop effective, targeted management strategies.