A Puzzle In the Pribilofs- page 4 | Science | Smithsonian
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A Puzzle In the Pribilofs

On the remote Alaskan archipelago, scientists and Aleuts are trying to find the causes of a worrisome decline in fur seals

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Near an old lava flow that juts out into the Bering Sea, Jones scans the beach line for cavorting seals. A week earlier, he spied a male killer whale a couple of hundred yards out, holding offshore with its pod. The whale suddenly rushed the beach and dove, seals exploding to each side. It later surfaced with the other whales, then faded into the fog. Jones wrote it all down. “I’m looking for just anything,” he says. Now Jones spots an immense light brown animal lounging in the surf, appearing like some mythic creature carved of stone. Then it raises its enormous, squashed face. “That’s a big old sea lion,” he exclaims, logging it. Over the course of several hours, Jones will visit four other rookeries on the island’s gravel roads, noting, in turn, three lions hauled out on a rock, a pup tangled in green line, an off-white albino seal thought to be blind amid a sea of dark forms.

All that’s missing are the masses of seals once known by his grandfather and all the elders before. “Something’s happening,” Jones says. “I’d like to know what the heck it is.”

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