Document Type


Journal/Book Title/Conference

National Academy of Sciences. Proceedings






National Academy of Sciences

Publication Date



age and size structure, fisheries, life-history traits, predation, evolutionary change

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Last Page


Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.


In light of recent recoveries of marine mammal populations worldwide and heightened concern about their impacts on marine food webs and global fisheries, it has become increasingly important to understand the potential impacts of large marine mammal predators on prey populations and their life-history traits. In coastal waters of the northeast Pacific Ocean, marine mammals have increased in abundance over the past 40 to 50 y, including fish-eating killer whales that feed primarily on Chinook salmon. Chinook salmon, a species of high cultural and economic value, have exhibited marked declines in average size and age throughout most of their North American range. This raises the question of whether size-selective predation by marine mammals is generating these trends in life-history characteristics. Here we show that increased predation since the 1970s, but not fishery selection alone, can explain the changes in age and size structure observed for Chinook salmon populations along the west coast of North America. Simulations suggest that the decline in mean size results from the selective removal of large fish and an evolutionary shift toward faster growth and earlier maturation caused by selection. Our conclusion that intensifying predation by fish-eating killer whales contributes to the continuing decline in Chinook salmon body size points to conflicting management and conservation objectives for these two iconic species.