Steller sea lions have a reason to celebrate today. The eastern population has been taken off the threatened species list. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) decided that the population no longer meets the criteria to be considered endangered. In 30 years, the population has grown by more than 50,000.
The Steller sea lion, also known as the northern sea lion, is the largest member of the Otariid (eared seal) family. The eastern population’s habitat ranges from the coast of Alaska to California. It is the first animal to be delisted by NOAA since the eastern North Pacific gray whale. That creature was taken off the list nearly 20 years ago, NOAA spokeswoman Julie Speegle said.
Experts at NOAA recommended delisting the Steller Sea Lions earlier this year.
"We're delighted to see the recovery of the eastern population of Steller sea lions," Jim Balsiger said in a statement. He is the administrator of NOAA Fisheries' Alaska Region. "We'll be working with the states and other partners to monitor this population to ensure its continued health."
To Protect and Preserve
The delisting of the eastern population does not affect the Steller sea lions’ western population. That group’s habitat ranges from Cape Suckling, Alaska, to Russia. The western population remains on the endangered list.
NOAA estimated there were about 18,000 sea lions in the eastern population in 1979. The group was listed as threatened in 1990. The decline was blamed on fishermen and other people killing the animals because they were eating fish and considered a “nuisance.” In 2010, the most recent year a count was available, the agency estimated just over 70,000 sea lions.
Although the species is being removed from the list, it will still receive protection under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, Speegle said by phone from her office in Juneau.
When an animal is delisted, the Endangered Species Act requires a monitoring plan that covers five years. NOAA has decided to double that length of time to monitor the sea lions over a 10-year period. "We are just proceeding carefully and cautiously to ensure that this species can be maintained in the recovered status," she said.