Human-Pinniped Relationships & Marine Historical Ecology

Hope Loiselle: Doctoral Dissertation Research: Human-Pinniped Relationships & Marine Historical Ecology. National Science Foundation. 2022-2024.

This dissertation project aims to better understand the forces guiding long-term histories of human-marine animal interactions and the extent to which marine populations were resilient to human hunting pressure prior to industrialization. Taking a historical ecological approach to investigate the complex, intertwined cultural and ecological histories of the Japanese sea lion (Zalophus japonicus) in Hokkaido throughout the late Holocene up to the extinction of this species in the mid-20th century, this study will explore the resilience of a now-extinct marine mammal species to climate change, human harvesting, and habitat disruption, as well as the reciprocal implications of this, i.e. how humans were impacted by these variations in marine productivity and prey populations. In addition to providing funding for the training of a graduate student in anthropology in the methods of empirical, scientific data collection and analysis, the project would enhance public understanding of science and the scientific method broadly disseminating its findings. Results of this research will be shared in both public and academic venues and help promote the importance of ongoing marine mammal conservation efforts.

This research uses archaeological, genetic, and isotopic data to examine how maritime hunter-gatherers and marine mammals were entangled in complex ecological relationships preceding the extinction of the Japanese sea lion. Ancient DNA from 120 samples over 12 archaeological sites is being sequenced to track changing sea lion populations through the late Holocene. The PIs are also conducting stable isotope analysis on the same sea lion samples to gain insight into changing marine ecosystems as they may have affected sea lions and people. The study adds a new dimension improves our understanding of the human role in ecological change, and vice versa, providing comparative data for studies of human-marine ecology and the maritime archaeology and history.

Status of Research
In progress
Research Type