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Ecology and salmon related articles

The Trouble with Sea Lions

by Kathy Ursprung
The Dalles Chronicle, July 12, 2013

A California Sea Lion. The Dalles Marina tenants aren't expecting their close encounters with sea lions -- or one sea lion in particular -- to go away any time soon, particularly after a July 3 letter from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife on the subject.

"It is very unfortunate that three to four sea lions have found their way above Bonneville Dam and are now interfering with fishing opportunities, fish passage, and are damaging private property, as is the case in your marina," wrote Robin Brown, marina mammal program leader on July 3.

Actually, only one sea lion is causing difficulties in the marina. At his arrival two years ago, "Ray" was estimated at 300 pounds. Today the figure is around 1,200 as the animal has fattened up on the rich buffet of salmon caught in nearby fishing nets.

"Fishermen will haul in salmon with one bite taken out of them," said Kathy Norton, who oversees the marina for the property owner, the Port of The Dalles.

While "Ray" is the only sea lion who regularly resides in the marina, three, or Norton suspects four smaller sea lions have been spotted in between the Bonneville and The Dalles dams.

"I don't know whether 'Ray' has marked his territory or not, but they don't come to the marina," Norton said.

The other sea lions have been spotted just below The Dalles Dam. One of the smaller animals is suspected in an earlier report of an interaction with windsurfers offshore from Riverfront Park.

Efforts to shoo the marina's problem child away have been less than successful and the effects of "Ray" pulling his more than half-ton weight out of the water has caused some damage to one of the boathouse owners' dock. The dock has since been blocked off and the sea lion has moved to another tenant's dock, where he takes shelter.

The sea lions haven't followed expected behavior at all. When "Ray" first appeared, Norton was told the animal would soon move back downriver and migrate to customary breeding grounds. But that never happened and "Ray" has been in the gorge for two years. After months of effort, he and his brethren have confounded Fish and Wildlife's usual trap-and-relocate efforts.

"We intend to continue this effort as possible with the limited staff and resources available to us," Brown wrote. "Your assistance with preventing these sea lions from using your docks could assist us by encouraging the animals to use the trap for a resting area instead."

The trap is currently stored within the marina, but Norton said Fish and Wildlife may be looking to bring in a temporary dock for trap placement.

Brown noted that The Dalles Marina tenants aren't alone in the challenges of dealing with the protected animals. In fact, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration offers an online list of measures that can be used to discourage sea lions. The measures range from fencing and barriers, visual repellents (flags or flashing lights), and sprinklers, to nonlethal projectiles (paintball, slingshots or airsoft guns), noise makers and boat hazing.

They advise that lethal or injurious firearms, sharp items (gaffs, harpoons), entangling devices, aggressive methods (striking the animals), and baits or poisons should be avoided. Guard dogs should also be avoided because of risks to both dogs and sea lions, and the potential for disease transmission.

Kathy Ursprung
The Trouble with Sea Lions
The Dalles Chronicle, July 12, 2013

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