Sea Shepherd Calls For Sea Lion Sanctuary - NOT Slaughter in 2014

Sea LionsSea Lions  photo: Erwin VermeulenIn 2012, Sea Shepherd established the Dam Guardian Campaign to monitor the senseless cull of federally protected sea lions on the Columbia River. Up to 92 of these jovial dog-like marine mammals could be potentially killed this year — and every year from now until June 30, 2016 — for the crime of eating salmon. Workers from the Oregon and Washington Departments of Fish and Wildlife painfully brand the sea lions and attach tags and tracking devices to them. If any of the branded sea lions are caught eating “too much” fish at the Bonneville Dam, they can be trapped and killed. It is interesting to note that by Fish & Wildlife standards, “too much” means even a single fish.

Our volunteers have served along the shores of the Columbia River for the last two killing seasons. During the March to May, 2013 Dam Guardian Campaign, more than 50 dedicated Sea Shepherd volunteers traveled from around the world to report on the cruelties inflicted on the sea lions, who were observed on the Columbia River by members of the 1805 Lewis and Clark Expedition. They, along with salmon, are part of the fragile ecosystem of a great river that humans have destroyed with dams, overfishing, pollution, and the introduction of non-native species.

Killing sea lions not only will not fix the real problems on the Columbia River, but it also diverts limited resources away from real solutions as hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars are mismanaged in the farcical sea lion predation management program now underway. By focusing on the root causes of the salmon decline, it is easy to see that the blame lies not with the sea lions, but rather with the species who has cast centuries worth of fishing lines; has built the dams; has stocked the river with non-native fish; and has spilled enough arsenic, mercury and PCBs into the once mighty Columbia to make it among the most contaminated rivers in the Pacific Northwest. These are the very issues that must be addressed if we truly wish to save salmon!

In 2013, our volunteers reported on the lethal removal of two California sea lions: C22 and C18. Two more, C08 and C032 were taken captive and are presently on display in a small pool at New York’s Queens Zoo. In September, Dam Guardian volunteers checked-in on the sea lions, who are now forced to perform like clowns in order to receive pieces of cut-up dead fish. Signage at the facility indicates that C08 and C032 were "rescued" and accuses them of "raiding rivers for endangered salmon". This is the very same salmon that humans on the Columbia River catch without penalty or punishment. The Queens Zoo proudly reports that their “rescued” sea lions can now eat all the fish they want. This is only true if these California sea lions, who hunt and eat up to 90 pounds of fish throughout the day in the wild, now want to eat no more than 30 pounds of dead fish per day, on the schedule and whim of a human trainer.

During our time along the Columbia, Sea Shepherd also documented numerous abuses by sea lion “researcher” Matt Tennis. Thousands of caring individuals responded immediately to our call to action in July Sea Shepherd Calls for the Immediate Removal of Sea Lion “Researcher”. This led to real and concrete changes in protocol and this employee will no longer have the opportunity to work unsupervised with sea lions.   In a letter dated September 3, 2013, Donna Wieting, Director of the NOAA Office of Protected Resources, communicated the following to Sea Shepherd:

Since we were made aware of the allegations against Mr. Tennis, we have been in communication with Mr. Tennis’ supervisors at ODFW. We have been assured by ODFW that the matter has been addressed. ODFW has taken steps to ensure that future work by all project staff will be conducted in an appropriate and professional manner. The ODFW has modified their pinniped handling protocol to require the presence and direct oversight of a project supervisor during capture and marking operations.

As we look ahead to the 2014 season, the Dam Guardian campaign is evolving. Last year we began strategic dialogues with key leaders in Oregon and Washington. We plan to continue these discussions and are prepared to meet with officials in the cities of North Bonneville and Astoria to explore ways they can turn the presence of sea lions into a boon for their cities.  We have watched this occur in San Francisco over a long period of time and have hopes that it can happen on the Columbia as well.  

As with most living beings, the sea lions on the Columbia River simply seek vital nourishment and a place to rest free from the traps, seal bombs and constant harassment they face from ODFW and Wildlife Services agents. “Safe zone” haul-outs in the Port of Astoria would provide sea lions with much-needed sanctuary. The people of the state of California already embrace the inherent benevolence underlying this concept. In 2013, Californians responded to an unprecedented mass-stranding event involving more than 1,000 starving sea lion pups. Humanitarians around the globe supported the ongoing efforts to save these animals. All of us at Sea Shepherd applaud the heroes who worked around the clock to respond to this crisis. How ironic that rescuers did all they could to save these pups while some of these very same animals, once grown and having migrated to the Pacific Northwest, could very well be targeted for extermination.

Likewise, since September 1989, San Francisco has rolled out a welcome mat to the gregarious sea lions who reside year-round on the K Dock of Pier 39. In turn, the sea lions attract tourists, who pump money into the California economy. In October 2011, Pier 39 was ranked as the #12 most visited tourist destination in the WORLD by TravelandLeisure.com. The following September, Pier 39 reported $170 million in annual revenues. We feel certain that the cruise ship passengers, other tourists and local residents who visit Oregon’s Port of Astoria would cheer and support the establishment of a sea lion sanctuary on the docks.

While Sea Shepherd will not have Dam Guardians along the river this year, we will continue to work in defense of these targeted sea lions. The California sea lions marked for death on the Columbia River deserve sanctuary — NOT slaughter. As we continue our advocacy work to bring change, our friends and colleagues from the Sea Lion Defense Brigade (SLDB) will be on the ground, as they have been in previous seasons, to document the atrocities inflicted upon the Sea Lions. We support them 100%. SLDB needs volunteers! If you are interested in serving, please contact them directly at: sealiondefensebrigade@gmail.com. Be sure to follow them on facebook at: Sea Lion Defense Brigade Facebook. We will continue to report any major developments via our social media channels. Thank you for your support and commitment to the sea lions and all of Sea Shepherd’s majestic and beautiful clients who irreplaceably contribute to the diversity of our planet’s ecosystems.

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