Boats will Haze Sea Lions
by Joe Rojas-Burke
A two-day test will try to reduce salmon killed and eaten by the animals
Wildlife managers are attempting a new tactic to stop sea lions from feasting on salmon at Bonneville Dam: hazing the animals at close range by boat.
A two-day operation to test the strategy is to begin this morning. If it proves ineffective, trapping or even killing selected individual sea lions could become more likely. Commercial and tribal fishing groups are pressuring wildlife agencies to limit salmon kills by sea lions.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will begin today's operation by firing shrieking and exploding fireworks from positions on the dam to drive sea lions downriver. Four boats will try to maneuver between the dam and the sea lions, risking the hazardous, roiling water below the open spillways.
Crews aboard the boats will chase the sea lions using more fireworks and noisemakers, including "seal bombs" that burst underwater. The methods are intended to startle but not injure the animals.
Sea lions have proved clever and persistent enough to overcome similar hazing tactics in other locations where they have fixated on migrating salmon and steelhead. At the Seattle-area Ballard Locks, for instance, three hardcore eaters easily escaped boats by diving and learned to avoid projectiles by surfacing out of range.
Ann Snyder, a spokeswoman for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, emphasized the experimental nature of the operation. "We don't expect this to be perfect," she said.
The state is obligated to try any hazing tactics that might work before responding to requests to seek federal permission to trap or kill damaging sea lions, she said.
Other agencies taking part are the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Oregon State Police and the National Marine Fisheries Service, the federal agency responsible for protecting sea lions and endangered salmon.
Monitors on the hazing boats will observe the sea lions' reactions. The agencies will meet next week to consider the results of the two-day operation and decide whether it's worth continuing.
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