Because this is happening a few hours from home, I’m posting to bring some attention to the issue. I haven’t included any graphic photos, but the subject matter is the hazing and culling of California sea lions.

Just south of our Washington border, in Astoria, Oregon, the Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) is trapping and branding sea lions at the Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River. I’ve been following the story on Facebook, at the Sea Shepherd page and the Sea Lion Defense Brigade page.

Sea lions are being targeted for their catch of salmon at the dam. These marine mammals are often blamed for the problems which have, at their genesis, human technologies or practices: we built the dams, we destroyed wetlands, over-developed, polluted rivers, over-fished and thus depleted salmon numbers to these endangered levels.

Sea Lion branding in Oregon

Sea Lion branding

According to Sea Shepherd and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, sea lions take just between 0.4% and 4.2% of the salmon run below the Bonneville Dam each year. According to the WDFW document, the sea lion take was 1.8% in 2011 and 2.2% in 2010. These are other numbers cited by Sea Shepherd:

  • The dams along the Columbia River take up to 60% of juvenile salmon and up to 17% of adult salmon.
  • Human fishing activity takes approximately 17% of the adult salmon from the river.
  • Non-native, introduced sport-fishing species consume up to 3 million young salmon a year.
  • By-catch of Columbia River salmon in open ocean fisheries also contributes to the loss of Columbia River salmon.

The states of Washington and Oregon applied for exceptions to the Marine Mammal Protection Act in order to carry out hazing and lethal control of the sea lions they deem problematic. Part of the methodology is to brand sea lions and then track the ones who refuse to budge from the food source at the dam. Those sea lions can then be killed.

A few days ago, the Dam Guardians, Sea Shepherd’s protection force on the Columbia River, documented sea lions trapped for branding. Observers and volunteers then reported a sea lion apparently in shock, shaking and exhibiting other trauma behaviors following the branding process. Today, Sea Shepherd reported that one branded sea lion died.

If you read some of the local Oregon news reports, a preponderance of the reader commentary is in favor of the branding and the lethal culling. As with any online discussion, it’s tough to know how many comments are legitimate or scientific, how many come from fishermen who have a vested interest in the sea lion cull, or how many commenters are just trolls. The heat generated by salmon issues in the Pacific Northwest leads to the most vitriolic of sentiments about sea lions who effectively compete for the resources we humans want for ourselves.

Sea Shepherd and Dam Guardians are asking people who oppose these particular methods by ODFW to contact both the Governors of Washington and Oregon and let them know of the opposition to these practices. If you’re in the area and are so inclined, you can also volunteer as a Dam Guardian, to observe and document the sea lion cull. Contact information is posted here at the Dam Guardians What You Can Do page.

Edited to add (3/29/13): Here’s that contact information. People have been posting their objections to the governors’ Facebook pages (listed below) — most numerously on Governor Kitzhaber’s page.

Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber
State Capitol Building
900 Court Street
Salem, OR 97301
phone: (503) 378-4582
fax: (503) 378-6827
twitter: @govkitz

Washington Governor Jay Inslee
Office of the Governor
PO Box 40002
Olympia, WA 98504-0002
phone: (360) 902-4111
fax: 360-753-4110
twitter: @govInslee