Tag Archives: sea lions

Town harbors mixed views over its sea lion population

Published February 23, 2015 in the “Ocean Watch” column, Honolulu Star-Advertiser ©2015 Susan Scott


Astoria, Ore. » During my current road trip from Seattle to San Francisco, I stopped in this picturesque town at the mouth of the Columbia River to watch the cargo ships, trawlers and recreational boats I had glimpsed while crossing the river’s 4-mile bridge.

At the waterfront, furry brown heads dipped, bobbed, glided and called. This surprise encounter with marine mammals thrilled me — but not everyone is so enamored.

To many Astoria residents, the California sea lions that have moved into their harbor are a curse.

I knew the animals were sea lions because of the visible ear flaps on their heads. I also identified the species from their racket.

sea lions

California sea lions are a noisy bunch that bellow and bark as they jockey for space among themselves.

The dull roar I heard at the waterfront, though, came from far more than the sea lions in sight. I set out to find the source of the commotion.

California sea lions are native to the Pacific Coast from Vancouver Island to the southern tip of Mexico’s Baja Peninsula. These marine mammals with doglike faces are playful and intelligent.

Most of the trained “seals” in marine parks, including Hawaii’s Sea Life Park, are Cali­for­nia sea lions.

sea lions

In the early 1970s the species numbered about 10,000. Since the Marine Mammal Protection Act in 1972, the sea lion population has steadily increased. Approximately 300,000 individuals live along the coast today.

About a mile up the river, I saw, heard and smelled the cause of the commotion. It seemed as if half of Astoria’s 2,000 or so molting sea lions lay draped over one another on most of a marina’s floating docks, while the other half tried jumping onto the jam-packed platforms.

Those already on the pier roared their outrage.

Most of this marine mammal mass arrived to feast on an influx of smelt. The animals will stick around, biologists believe, for the spring salmon run.

Talk about an uproar. Fishers, marina owners, slip holders and nearby residents are on one side of this stinky situation, while conservationists, animal rights activists and some in the tourism industry are on the other.

sea lions

There are no easy fixes. Wildlife managers are considering options ranging from killing some of the creatures to building resting platforms strictly for the sea lions. Studies are ongoing.

Astoria is a fine place to visit for lots of reasons, one being its sea lions. The easy viewing of these animals is a time to think about ways humans can live in harmony with the wildlife we have chosen to protect.

Marine biologist Susan Scott writes the newspaper column, “Ocean
Watch”, for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, www.staradvertiser.com

©2015 Susan Scott


Let these sea lions live, and let humans pay instead

Published April 15, 1996 in the “Ocean Watch” column, Honolulu Star-Advertiser ©1996 Susan Scott

WHAT happens when a dwindling species gets protected, makes a comeback, then becomes such a nuisance that people want to start killing it again?

That’s the $64,000 question in Seattle lately, where a group of clever California sea lions has figured out the Ballard Locks fish ladders.

Actually, there’s not much ingenuity required. People built fish ladders because the locks between Puget Sound and Lake Washington prevent steelhead trout from returning to their freshwater spawning grounds. Such ladders enable steelheads to climb the locks and enter the lake.

Since finding fish is a sea lion’s job, this, naturally, is where a bunch of them loiter. They are amply rewarded by this choice of hangouts.

Sea lion number 17, named Hondo, is the biggest California sea lion on record, weighing 1,084 pounds. The usual range for these adult male sea lions is 750 pounds to 1,000 pounds.

Hondo and his cohorts are being blamed, in part, for the depleted stocks of steelhead trout.

Because of this shortage, many people want the sea lions gone. Air horns, firecrackers and rubber bullets, however, did not permanently scare the sea lions away. Neither did net barriers, transporting several of the culprits 900 miles south or locking up Hondo in a zoo for a season.

WHEN the dust settled, the sea lions were back. Now the state of Washington has received federal approval to shoot the worst offenders.

My question is this: What is a steelhead trout anyway?

Seriously. What are trout doing wandering around in the ocean? I thought trout were fly-eating fish living in rushing, Rocky Mountain streams.

Indeed they are. The surprise is that humans put them there. In fact, humans have transplanted these natives of the North American West Coast to rivers and streams all over the world. And there they thrive.

Rainbow trout are perfectly happy spawning and living their entire lives in fresh water, while steelhead trout need the ocean to live – and they’re both the same species.

They are, however, different races. Steelheads are called the sea-run race; rainbows are the freshwater race.

So. Back to sea lions. Will killing the biggest sea lions chowing down at the Ballard Locks help the steelhead situation? Maybe. But not for long.

In this world of survival of the fattest, other sea lions will soon be the kings of the locks and grow equally large. Then wildlife officials will again be faced with a difficult decision.

And this is a tough situation for wildlife workers. Although they are depicted as the bad guys in this by animal-rights activists, I can’t imagine one marine biologist I know enjoying the prospect of shooting a sea lion, especially such a prime specimen as Hondo.

I can’t see how killing three or four of a zillion sea lions is going to help the fish for long.

And neither can animal-rights activists. Some are threatening to sue, and others are rowing around in little boats near the Ballard Locks wearing red bull’s-eye targets.

The latest word from Seattle is that a marine park in Florida has offered to take five of the worst fish felons.

“No,” say the activists. “These wild animals should not be imprisoned. Redesign the locks so the sea lions can’t get the fish so easily.”

Rebuilding the fish ladders is a good answer. The rub is that it would cost a fortune in tax dollars. Trout and salmon (also suffering critical shortages) have lived with seals and sea lions for eons and have done just fine.

It’s we humans that have messed up the balance of their world; it’s we humans who should pay the price.

Marine biologist Susan Scott writes the newspaper column, “Ocean Watch”,
for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, www.starbulletin.com