Reflections on a Sea Lion Killing Season at the Bonneville Dam
By Sandy McElhaney
The sea lion killing machine on the Columbia River in Oregon appears to have shut down for the season. The last killings reported by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife were on May 16, 2012. On that date, the playful barking of the sea lions branded U61 and U159 was silenced forever at the hands of state employees. These animals were the latest in a long list of victims of a morally corrupt partnership between state and federal agencies and greedy commercial fisheries.
The slaughter began this year on April 3. Over the course of a month and a half, Oregon DFW employees methodically branded, hazed, and killed California Sea Lions for the crime of eating endangered salmon on the Columbia River near the Bonneville Dam. A recently published report from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers states that California Sea Lions consumed 0.6 percent of the endangered salmon at the Bonneville Dam from January through May 2012. Fishermen were allowed to take up to 13 percent of the same endangered salmon and the dam itself is responsible for taking 17 percent of adult salmon.
If the salmon are so endangered, why are fishermen allowed to take them from the river? Why? Just follow the money. In 2011, Seafood Oregon boasted an overall harvest value exceeding $145 million for all fisheries. The group’s director Nick Furman comments, “We remind fishermen that it’s not the pounds of fish that you take to the bank, it’s the dollars you take to the bank.” A quick scan of the Port of Astoria drives this message home. The port is littered with gill-netters. According to the Sea Lion Defense Brigade, Oregon allows 13 runs of endangered salmon to be gill-netted on the Columbia River. The argument that the sea lions are being killed to protect endangered salmon simply crumbles to pieces when one observes how commercial, recreational, and tribal fishermen on the Columbia are overfishing the same endangered salmon. With this in mind, the Humane Society of the United States is fighting for the California Sea Lions in federal court. Sea Shepherd supports the fight to save these animals from an unnecessary and illegal death.
In opposition to this senseless culling of sea lions for eating fish and in opposition to the overfishing and damming of our rivers, that are far greater problems on the Columbia River, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society mobilized a Dam Guardian campaign this spring. Campaign coordinator Scott West reflects:
"The campaign was initiated on a moment’s notice. Volunteers responded and some even traveled great distances at their own expense to help out. It became a self-directed campaign and the participants proved themselves up to the task. The response gave me hope for our species. Of course there were problems too. Folks intent on profiting from the death of salmon refused to acknowledge their own contributions to the decline of salmon and readily scapegoated the sea lions. Sea Shepherd remains committed to a natural marine environment where salmon and sea lions are healthy and abundant.”
A host of Dam Guardians observed sea lions being painfully branded with hot irons and harassed by state employees by firing rubber bullets and firecrackers at them. Smoke from the branding iron wafted in the air as the helpless animals barked in pain and distress. In one instance, an animal was kicked. Several disappeared into a boathouse and were never seen alive again. During the 2012 killing season, 11 sea lions were forever silenced and 1 was stolen from his river home to live a pathetic life in captivity. All totaled since 2008, 39 sea lions have been senselessly killed by state employees and 11 were taken into captivity.
Pleas to federal and state officials to stop the killing seem to fall on deaf ears. In May, Scott West accompanied 3rd grade teacher Angela Casey to the office of Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber. The purpose of the visit was to present hundreds of drawings and letters from California school children urging Governor Kitzhaber to stand up for the sea lions. The governor was unavailable to meet. He has since failed to even acknowledge receipt of the communications from the children. What kind of an elected official rudely ignores the messages of hundreds of school children? Earlier in 2012, the governor took advantage of a photo opportunity and read Dr. Seuss’ classic The Lorax to a group of 2nd graders. Apparently the governor wasn’t paying attention to the insightful words of the Lorax:
“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot,
Nothing is going to get better. It's not.” --The Lorax
Sea Shepherd IS paying attention! As long as sea lions are being wrongfully killed for sustenance eating on the Bonneville Dam, as long as the real culprits, overfishing of endangered salmon and destructive dam operations are allowed while sea lions are blamed for dwindling salmon populations, we will be there to shine a light and to speak out on this horrid injustice.