Special information about seaweeds and sea otters near Commander Islands - Kamchatka region, Russia (by field expedition 2004).

Dr. Vladimir Sevostianov
President of the Commander Islands & BC Nature Protection and Conservation Association, (Canada - Russia)

Web Site: http://home.comcast.net/~mishkabear/island/
E-Mail: seaotter3@hotmail.com, seaotter@ratrunner.com
P.O. Box 5482, Victoria, BC, Canada, V8R 6S4

Introduction:

Like an Alaska sea otters' disappearance a mystery, the huge fields of kelp ( Alaria Fistulosa mainly) disappearance in a mystery too near Commander Islands in 2003/2004. What it means for the sea otter's population, which still rather stable around the Islands? What role the sea weeds play in Commander Islands Ecosystem? It's questions, which have to attract many scientists in the next future.

Methods:

Our material has been gathered by field observing. As we did more then fifteen years ago we are paying more attention to the general condition of the marine ecosystem by mapping the kelp at on the surface of the ocean (mainly contained in gigantic form of the sea weeds - Alaria Fistulosa) by Zodiac and walking stationary observation from bay to bay, public questioning and co-operation with local people and organizations.

Materials:

For the beginning, let's have a look, for example, to the typical ecotope of the sea otters during the spring-summer and fall period of their life

" Special attention we have to pay to the field of kelp (Alaria Fistulisa - gigantic form of the sea weeds), which allow to the sea otters to have a rest. Those fields almost totally surrounded of the Islands and in many places they measure for big distance and huge capacity" (Barabash-Nikiforov, Marakov, Nikolaev, 1968).

Of course, many others scientist did some research work with the sea weeds on the Commander and all of them emphasize that by biodiversity and biomass the Commander Islands one of the most unique area in the World (Kardakova-Pregenceva, 1938; Zinova, 1940;). Also, the biomass of seaweeds was rather stable and maybe it was one of the factors, which allow living on the Commander another gigantic form of life - Steller Sea Cow!

According to the past evidences and research works those situation with seaweeds near Commander were stable at list from 1932 to 1975).

In all of that reasons and by initiative of Dr, Konstantin Sidorov, Dr. Mihail Pereladov and me, we did some details research work the seaweeds around the Commander Islands from 1981 to 1986 (mapping the fields of kelp; underwater checking and weighing the biomass, checking the stormy venting on the shore).

As a result, the whole biomass of the gigantic form of the seaweeds was around five million tons. Mainly Alaria Fistulosa. The part of Laminariae sp. was found around fife thousand tons. ( Pereladov, Sidorov, 1987).

" The width of sea weeds around the Islands was almost total as a belt and stretching from the offshore to the ocean about one few hundred miters till one mile and even more. It was the clear picture especially from the Bering sea side of the Islands." ( Sidorov, 1987 a,b).

Before and after we did some surface monitoring of the kelp and distribution of the sea otters groups. For years we never ever noticed the big changes.

Amazingly, by my field expedition 2004 (August - September) we fond completely opposite but another accurate account. . The huge fields of kelp have almost disappeared around the Commander Islands. The stormy venting of Alaria Fistulosa extremely poor. We checked only small remainders of the fields (diameter not more then twenty miters and some lonely thalluses).

Discussion:

Without any doubt the sea weeds, including the gigantic form of Alaria Fistulosa, Laminariae sp. and etc. are important component of marine ecosystem and have a long term of influence to the under water fauna - invertebrates and fish. Some of them are the part of diet of the sea otters (sea urchins, mussels, crabs and fish).

One of the reason for the disappearance of the wide kelp field near Commander Islands might have its cause in the strong and highly stormy weather, which particularly occurred on the Commander Islands in winter 2002/2003.

According to the local weather forecast the speed of wind on 27-28th December was around 50 meters per second. Almost the same was in 5th of March. In that time the level of tide at the ocean was really low. All of those factors, damaged without any doubt the roots of see weeds catastrophically.

Another ones and probably more important still in mystery, at list for me.

Conclusion:

Anyway, this means that the natural ecosystem has lost some important protection components. It is really vital, especially for the sea otters. Everybody knows, that the fields of kelp on the Commander Islands are very necessary places, which allow these animals to escape the stormy winds and waves, have a rest, normal communication and breeding activity between ones, keep the pubs better and protect themselves from natural predators (sometimes Orcas).

Of course, these circumstances have also caused a lot of changes in the whole marine ecosystem by some feeding changes moving in different, bad known directions.

Even though, the number of the sea otter's population on the Commander is almost stable (around 4 500 - 5000 animals), we expect some noticeable changes in the next future. Probably it will be a big decrease of the local population. How many in numbers and in which period of time? Will be their catastrophic drop or rather natural fluctuations? All these are the questions, which require a more detailed investigation by field observation work and simply protection the sea otters from illegal hunting. Especially in winter/summer time 2005 and 2006. Hopefully, Commander Biosphere Reserve, some scientists and Russian Fish&Wildlife Service, will do this. Unfortunately, all of them do not have enough means and money for those goals.

For the end of this paper, I would like to thank the head of BCC Alexey Zimenko; the head of local Fish&Wildlife Service Vladimir Fomin; the staff of the Commander Biosphere Reserve: Dmitry Petkelev and Sergey Pasenyk; local administration and mayor Alexander Evstifeev. Only from their strong supports our expedition was possible and a success.

Literature:

  • Barabash-Nikiphorov, Sergey Marakov, Alexander Nikolaev " Sea otter" book Russian Academy of Science, Leningrad, 1968.
  • Vladimir Sevostianov "Peculiar of the growth of the sea otters population near Medniy Islands" Biological problems of the North, DVNC, AS USSR, All Union Simposium, Magadan, 1983.
  • Vladimir Sevostianov "The results of studies sea otters population near Commander Islands from 1979 to 1982", VNIRO, Moscow, 1984
  • Vladimir Sevostianov, Alexander Burdin " Population of the sea otters" Petropavlovsk-Kamchatka, VNIRO, 1987.
  • Konstantin Sidorov, Vladimir Sevostianov "Sea otter population near Commander Islands"book Rational Resources Management on the Commander Islands, Moscow State University, Moscow, 1987.
  • Konstantin Sidorov " Commander Islands as a range of Global ecological monitoring", book Rational Resources Management on the Commander Islands, Moscow State University, Moscow, 1987.
  • Konstantin Sidorov " Some role of seaweeds ( Alaria Fistulosa) in shoaling ecosystems at the Commander-Kamchatka regions", "Third All Union conference of marine biology", 1988.
  • Konstantin Sidorov, Vacheslav Zemskiy, Vladimir Sevostianov " Dynamics of the Commander Islands Ecosystem', All union marine mammals workshop, Astrahan', 1982.
  • Konstantin Sidorov, Michail Pereladov ' ' The perspectives of the aquaculture development on the Commander Islands', collection Natural Resources management on the Commander, Moscow State University, 1987
  • Konstantin Sidorov, Vladimir Sevostianov " Sea otter: state of the population and perspective of keeping in semi captivity on the Commander Islands", collection Natural Resources management on the Commander, Moscow State University, 1987