March 26, 2013

Dam Guardian Report: March 26, 2013

By Ashley Lenton, Dam Guardian Campaign Leader and Sandy McElhaney, Dam Guardian Campaign Volunteer

We observed sea lions with fur that had caught fire and several convulsing in pain.

Bald eagle soars over the Columbia River at the Bonneville DamBald eagle soars over the Columbia River
at the Bonneville Dam
Photo: Andrew Lynch / Sea Shepherd
The beginning of the 2013 Dam Guardian Campaign saw moments of great beauty as we watched eagles soar above the Columbia River Gorge, and then hours upon hours of humanity at its very worst as helpless sea lions were branded on Palm Sunday at the Port of Astoria. Our Dam Guardians are present at the Bonneville Dam and also at the Port of Astoria to monitor the branding, hazing, and killing of up to 92 California sea lions who are charged with eating too many endangered salmon on the Columbia River.

Bonneville Dam: The MV RV Sea Shepherd is the base of operations at the Dam. Under the leadership of Ashley Lenton, Dam Guardians Andrew, Aaron, and Dieynaba spent the last several days monitoring hazing operations conducted by members of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission (CRITFC). Hazing is an umbrella term used to describe the underwater seal bombs or waterproof pyrotechnics (like M80 firecrackers), exploding long-range crackershell projectiles shot from12-gauge shotguns, and rubber bullets.  To say it is like being in a war-zone is an understatement. The boom, boom, boom of the explosive devises is intermittent throughout the day, seven days a week. Four to five Steller sea lions have been on the receiving end of this daily assault on wildlife. Although they can be hazed, the Steller sea lions have the protection of the Endangered Species Act, which means they cannot be killed for eating salmon. This is not the case for the California sea lions, who are literally marked for death. On the third day of the Dam Guardian campaign, five California sea lions were observed near the dam. State officials wasted no time readying their traps, which are now open and waiting for their prey. So far this season, no sea lions have ventured onto these platforms of death...but we know that it is just a matter of time.

CRITFC boat drops a seal bomb in an attempt to force the sea lions away from the damCRITFC boat drops a seal bomb in an attempt to force
the sea lions away from the dam
Photo: Andrew Lynch / Sea Shepherd

There are very few birds at the Bonneville Dam, nor small animals. It is like being in a dead zone. Dogs living in the vicinity tremble in fear and refuse to go outside. Some dog owners report having to give their pets tranquilizers just to help them cope during the hazing. We observed the startled sea lions on the receiving end of these fireworks and can only image what it must be like to be swimming against the strong currents of the Columbia searching for food and to then have to dodge an arsenal aimed directly your way. Although the hazers are not supposed to shoot right at the sea lions, we have seen them do so. Some of the sea lions have wounds consistent with shots from rubber bullets and explosive debris.

 

 

Port of Astoria: About two and a half hours west of the Bonneville Dam is the Port of Astoria. The port is located where the Columbia River meets the Pacific Ocean. For California sea lions, Astoria is the gateway to hell. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) maintains an office here, along with a fenced floating trap and a barbaric piece of machinery known as a “squeeze cage”. Dam guardians Frances, Nin, Kimber, and Mike observed hundreds of California sea lions hauled out and barking along the docks over the last week. It was truly a magnificent site, something that tourists in San Francisco clamor to observe and photograph at Pier 39. The scene at the Port of Astoria is a quite different than Pier 39. Throughout the week, ODFW workers hazed the sea lions off the docks, leaving them with no place to rest. Then before dawn on Sunday, March 24 the real horror show began. Our Dam Guardians were awakened by the piercing barks of sea lions in distress. More than 30 were caught in the floating trap as an ODFW worker stood on top, causing part of it to be submerged under water. The panicked pinnipeds struggled to find a way out, but the only door was the one leading to the squeeze cage. Soon enough the worker, “Matt” took his weight off of the trap and began the process of moving the sea lions one-by-one onto the squeeze cage and branding them with a red hot iron. This went on for more than six hours. We observed sea lions with fur that had caught fire and several convulsing in pain. Along with our crew of Dam Guardians, many tourists bore witness to this Palm Sunday brutality. Matt, the ODFW worker who spent his Sunday burning the hides of sea lions on the taxpayer dime, wore a hat with the words “Sea Lion Shepherd” printed in it. This man is no shepherd.

ODFW branded several of the sea lions to the point where they started on fireODFW branded several of the sea lions to the point where they started on fire
Photo: Aaron Hall / Sea Shepherd

As horrible as the hazing and branding are, the dreaded cull looms ahead. The scapegoated sea lions of Bonneville Dam are marked for death because they eat salmon to survive. These wild animals eat far less fish than the Bonneville Dam chews up, and they take far less fish than the fishermen on the river, but sea lions can’t buy a license to fish. Instead they will pay with their very lives. Killing sea lions won’t save salmon.

Please contact the Governors of Oregon and Washington and urge them to bring an immediate end to this senseless cull. Ask them to share the river with the sea lions.

Dam Guardians will be on the job through the end of May. Follow us on twitter @DamGuardians, on Facebook at Sea Shepherd USA and be sure to check out our Dam Guardian webpage

 To join our team of dedicated volunteers, send an email to: damguardian@seashepherd.org

 For the sea lions,

Ashley Lenton, Dam Guardian Campaign Leader
Sandy McElhaney, Dam Guardian Campaign Volunteer

Dam Guardians Frances, Nin, Andrew, Ashley (with Lulu), Leslie, Dieynaba, Kimber, Mike, and AaronDam Guardians Frances, Nin, Andrew, Ashley (with Lulu),
Leslie, Dieynaba, Kimber, Mike, and Aaron
Photo: Aaron Hall / Sea Shepherd

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