UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

Predator-prey interactions between harbour seals (Phoca vitulina) and Pacific salmon (Oncorhynchus spp.) in the Salish Sea Nelson, Benjamin W.


Populations of Chinook (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) and coho salmon (O. kisutch) have experienced significant declines in abundance and productivity over the last 50 years in the Salish Sea as harbour seals (Phoca vitulina) recovered from hunting and culling. Some have hypothesized that increased predation by seals may be responsible for the declines in salmon survival, and their failure to recover after reductions in fishing effort. However, it is not known if these correlations exist for every population of salmon in the Salish Sea, or how many young Chinook and coho salmon are consumed by seals each year. I developed mathematical and statistical models to investigate the potential causal relationship between seal predation and declines in Chinook and coho salmon populations in the Salish Sea. I also used simulation modeling to evaluate outcomes that may result if managers reduced British Columbia’s harbour seal population to promote the recovery of salmon populations. I found that harbour seal densities were strongly negatively associated with productivity of most wild Chinook salmon populations in the Salish Sea and Washington Coast that were included in the study. Integrating recently collected seal diet data with a novel predation model indicates that large numbers of juvenile Chinook and coho salmon are eaten by seals, and that predation-related mortality has likely increased significantly over the last 50 years. The results of my simulation model suggest both lethal removals and contraception could reduce the seal population, but that important tradeoffs exist between the two approaches. Overall, my findings increase understanding of the role that marine mammal predation plays in the early marine life stage of juvenile salmon, and identifies potential outcomes and tradeoffs of actively managing predator populations.

Item Media

Item Citations and Data


Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International