May 9, 2013

Dam Guardian Report - May 9, 2013

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

Nine sea lions were trapped behind this tarp on April 30, 2013Nine sea lions were trapped behind this tarp on April 30, 2013
Photo: Sea Shepherd
We have come to think of Tuesdays as “Terrible Tuesday” on the Dam Guardian Campaign.  Over the course of the last three Tuesdays, 20 sea lions have been trapped at the Dam, of those 11 were branded, two were taken into captivity and one was killed for the crime of eating salmon.  

The trapping and branding begins under the cloak of darkness. In an action that seems to take a page from the playbook of the infamous Taiji dolphin killers, the traps are hidden behind tarpaulins.  Strategically placed small boats further obstruct our view. Puffs of smoke rising above the tarps reveal that branding operations are underway.  The “squeeze cage” used to restrain the sea lions as they are scorched with a red-hot branding iron is also hidden behind a tarp.  As the sun came up on the morning of April 30, we noted a modification to the front of the squeeze cage tarp:  a crudely painted smiley face stared back at us, as if to mock those who document the senseless cull of sea lions on the Bonneville Dam.  We can only guess who drew the smiley face.  Several agencies are complicit in the branding, hazing and killing of California sea lions wrongfully deemed to be salmon predators.  On any given day, Dam Guardians encounter bird and sea lion hazers with the United States Department of Agriculture and also the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission (CRITFC).  The U.S. Army Corps. of Engineers stands guard and counts the sea lions.  Workers with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) and the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission wield the red-hot brands.  Did one of these individuals, whose salaries are paid by federal and state tax dollars, also brandish the spray paint can?  Do they actually believe that mutilating and killing wild animals is something to smile about?  Is Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber smiling as well?

On April 30, the Dam Guardians stood watch for more than eight hours as six sea lions were branded behind the smiley face tarp at the Bonneville Dam.  In addition to the six branded sea lions, three identified as “predators” by the state of Oregon were “removed”.  Sea lion C018 named “Will” by Sea Shepherd Supporter Kazz Larkin of the United Kingdom was lethally injected for the crime of eating salmon.  Sea lions C08 named “Rogito” by Carolina Henriquez of Chile and C023, named “Simon” by Paige Nelson of Lexington, Kentucky, will spend the rest of their lives in captivity at the Queens Zoo in New York.  Perhaps the most gut-wrenching part of witnessing the April 30 ordeal was watching one lone California sea lion hover nearby in the water for several hours as he couldn’t reach his friends who were trapped and crying out in fear and pain. 

A lone sea lion tries to comfort his friends who were trapped on April 30, 2013A lone sea lion tries to comfort his friends who were trapped on April 30, 2013
Photo: Sea Shepherd

Four sea lions on ODFW’s hit list have now been “removed” since the start of this year’s cull.  ODFW is authorized by the federal government to kill up to 92 sea lions this year and every year between now and June 2016.  Why devote all of this time and expense to the destruction of a species that is consuming less than 1% of the salmon on the Columbia River?  In October 2012, the US Army Corps of Engineers reported that California sea lions consumed .6 percent of the salmon run from January through May of that year.  It is irresponsible and a gross mismanagement of public funds for even one penny more to be spent killing sea lions while tribal sport and commercial fishermen remove up to 17% of the wild salmon from the Columbia River.  The relentless hazing conducted at the Dam by CRITFC is funded to the tune of $2 million over 10 years; the contracted amount for 2013 alone is $193,832.  Imagine the difference these funds could make if they were devoted to cleaning up the toxic pollutants in the Columbia River instead of to firing thousands of rounds of cracker shells and seal bombs at wild animals whose ancestors have been here since at least the time of Lewis and Clark. We see and hear the impact of this daily assault on the sea lions.  What is the long-term environmental impact of the use of these explosives on the river and the salmon?  Shouldn’t those who claim to work to protect salmon avoid shooting concussive devices into the waters in which they swim? Our Dam Guardians have witnessed salmon and other fish become stunned after being in the vicinity of the explosives. They are knocked out, temporarily paralyzed and float to the surface of the water, lying there until they snap out of it and swim away. What sort of long-term damage is this doing to the salmon and their eggs? Is this really an intelligent way to deal with the problem of a declining salmon run? Has humanity lost all common sense?

The job of Dam Guardian volunteers is to monitor and report on the daily harassment of sea lions and birds along the Columbia River.  Our tools are our cameras and our words and we wield them with passion.  Sea Shepherd is a law-abiding organization. Just as the actions of the Cove Guardians on the ground in Taiji, Japan, are lawful, the actions of the Dam Guardians on the ground in the United States are also conducted within the scope of the law. Watching sea lions be branded, hazed and taken off to be killed day after day for months on end is not an easy task.  If we were to intervene at the Bonneville Dam, we would face federal Homeland Security charges. If we were to intervene directly with the wounded sea lion “Hope” (#781) and the other sea lions at the Port of Astoria, we would face federal charges in conjunction with a violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Even worse, we would lose our ability to document and report on the lethal cull.  Just as we know that killing sea lions won’t save salmon, we also know that taking the law into our own hands won’t save sea lions. 

Many thanks to the incredible Dam Guardians who travel from around the globe on their own dime to serve on campaign.  Current and recent crew members at the Dam include: Ben, Matt, Kathleen, Courtney, Jen, Selena, Dienayba, Aaron, Jeff, Sharon, Biaggo, Dayna, Molly, Dan and Graziella.  At the Port of Astoria, Sea Shepherd is now being represented by Frances, Carol, Franziska and Peter.

We appreciate the support of everyone who is following the Dam Guardian Campaign.  If you would like to apply to join us on the ground, please send an email to  If you can’t be here in person, you can still take vital action from home.  Please call Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber at (503) 378-4582 and urge him to focus his state’s resources on the real causes of the salmon decline on the Columbia:  overfishing, pollution, non-native species of fish, hatchery fish and the turbines of the Bonneville Dam. 

For the sea lions, for the river and for the salmon!

Dam Guardians: Biaggo, Izumi, Ashley, Dayna, Sharon and GraziellaDam Guardians: Biaggo, Izumi, Ashley, Dayna, Sharon and Graziella
Photo: Sea Shepherd

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