Killing Sea Lions
by David Linn
Killing sea lions is not the solution
In the waning weeks of 2018, Senate bill 3119 was signed into law. I was greatly surprised to learn that Sen. Maria Cantwell was one of the original sponsors of the bill and that Sen. Patty Murray was a subsequent co-sponsor. This law permits the killing of pinnipeds (sea lions, seals and others), which have been protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972. Like many other creatures that humans come in contact with, the pinnipeds were nearly driven to extinction. Likewise, it is humans who have caused the dramatic decline in salmon populations.
This law is just another example of humans creating a problem and then, in a reversion to some primitive instinct, resort to killing another species as a way to claim a "solution." We are told that the salmon population is critically low and therefore the pinnipeds who eat salmon must be killed so there will be more for humans. Then, in an effort to appear not quite so craven, they tell us it's to "Save the Orcas." Perhaps Sens. Cantwell and Murray really do understand the issue but are willing to sacrifice the lives of thousands of pinnipeds in order to pretend to be doing something. The proponents of this action seldom use the word "killing" but prefer such bloodless euphemisms as "taking," "harvesting," "managing" or "euthanizing."
The web of life that includes humans, orcas, sea lions, cormorants, salmon, hake and every other animal in our environment is far too complex for humans to try to engineer. We devise simplistic solutions to complicated problems without ever understanding all of the long-term implications of our actions. So we end up in a never-ending cycle of trying to fix the problems that we create by our "solutions."
The real cause of the salmon problems are the dams on the Snake and Columbia rivers. Removal of the dams on the Lower Snake River would greatly improve the ability of the salmon population to recover. Building dams must have sounded like a great idea to those who designed and constructed them. But they didn't know or didn't care that those dams would block salmon from swimming upstream to their spawning grounds. The barriers that were created also prove an ideal feeding location for sea lions who then gravitate to those locations for easy meals. To the simplistic human mind, seeing sea lions eating salmon implies we must kill sea lions.
Do you remember the assault on the cormorant population? It was claimed that they too were eating "our" salmon and must be killed. Now, years later, it turns out that all of that killing was in vain -- we still have a salmon problem.
While the Southern Resident orcas may dine primarily on Chinook salmon, sea lions have a much more varied diet. One of the other fishes that the sea lions eat are hake. It turns out that hake are also predators of juvenile salmon. So, while killing pinnipeds will reduce their consumption of salmon, it will also reduce their consumption of hake. This will then lead to a larger consumption of salmon by hake. Do we really understand that equation, and are we so certain that we are right?
And when this solution proves futile, what will we kill next?
Orca Survival May Be Impossible without Lower Snake River Dam Removal, Scientists Say by Lynda Mapes, Seattle Times, 10/15/18
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