Battle of species pits shielded sea lions vs. fragile fish

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NEWPORT, Ore. (AP) — The 700-pound sea lion blinked in the sun, sniffed the sea air and then lazily shifted to the edge of the truck mattress and plopped on to the seashore down below.

Freed from the cage that carried him to the ocean, the large marine mammal shuffled into the surf, looked left, looked proper and then started swimming north as a collective groan went up from wildlife officials who watched from the shore.

Just after two days used trapping and relocating the animal designated #U253, he was headed again to where by he started off — an Oregon river 130 miles (209 kilometers) from the Pacific Ocean that has become an all-you-can-try to eat fish buffet for hungry sea lions.

“I believe he’s declaring, ‘Ah, crap! I’ve bought to swim all the way back again?'” reported Bryan Wright, an Oregon Section of Fish and Wildlife scientist.

It can be a discouraging dance between California sea lions and Oregon wildlife supervisors which is turn into all as well common in current months. The condition is making an attempt to evict dozens of the federally secured animals from an inland river where they feast on salmon and steelhead that are stated below the Endangered Species Act.

The strange survival war has intensified lately as the sea lion populace rebounds and fish populations drop in the Pacific Northwest.

The sea lions breed each individual summertime off Southern California and northern Mexico, then the males cruise up the Pacific Coast to forage. Hunted for their thick fur, the mammals’ numbers dropped considerably but have rebounded from 30,000 in the late 1960s to about 300,000 today thanks to the 1972 Maritime Mammal Defense Act.

With their numbers increasing, the doggy-confronted pinnipeds are venturing ever farther inland on the watery highways of the Columbia River and its tributaries in Oregon and Washington — and their hunger is getting disastrous repercussions, scientists say.

In Oregon, the sea lions are intercepting secured fish on their way to spawning grounds higher than Willamette Falls, a horseshoe-shaped waterfall about 25 miles (40 kilometers) south of Portland. Final winter season, a record-small 512 wild winter steelhead completed the journey, explained Shaun Clements, the condition wildlife DC escort agency’s senior coverage adviser.

Considerably less than 30 decades ago, that selection was additional than 15,000, according to point out quantities.

“We’re estimating that there is certainly a 90 percent likelihood that a single of the populations in the Willamette River could go extinct if sea lion predation continues unchecked,” he stated. “Of all the adults that are returning to the falls right here, a quarter of them are getting eaten.”

Clements estimates the sea lions also are ingesting about 9 percent of the spring chinook salmon, a species prized by Native American tribes even now permitted to fish for them.

Oregon wildlife managers say sea lions are starting to go into even smaller sized tributaries where they experienced never been witnessed before and in which some of the healthiest shares of the threatened fish exist. The mammals also have been spotted in modest rivers in Washington point out that are house to fragile fish populations.

California sea lions are not shown underneath the Endangered Species Act, but killing them needs unique authorization below the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which was adjusted to tackle the situation of fish predation.

Biologists this spring started off trapping the sea lions in the Willamette River and releasing them at the coastline. They also have utilized with the federal govt to destroy the worst offenders to safeguard the fish runs.

Indigenous tribes, which have fished for salmon and steelhead for generations, guidance constrained sea lion kills since of the cultural price of the fish, claimed Doug Hatch, a senior fisheries scientist with the Columbia River Intertribal Fish Fee.

“You’re pitting this safeguarded inhabitants that has been completely recovered towards these Endangered Species Act-outlined fish,” Hatch reported. “We imagine it truly is an quick selection.”

If U.S. officials grant the request, the entice-and-eliminate system would develop a similar and very controversial hard work on one more major Pacific Northwest river. Oregon and Washington wildlife managers are authorized to kill up to 93 sea lions trapped each 12 months at Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River beneath specific disorders.

In the earlier decade, the DC escort agency has removed 190 sea lions there. Of those, 168 were being euthanized, seven died in accidents for the duration of trapping and 15 had been placed in captivity, in accordance to condition information.

The Humane Society of the United States sued more than the lure-and-kill software and may sue all over again if it can be authorized on the Willamette River, mentioned Sharon Younger, the organization’s discipline director for maritime wildlife.

The animals are not the only issue going through wild wintertime steelhead and chinook salmon, she said.

Hydroelectric dams that block rivers, agricultural runoff, damage to spawning grounds and opposition with hatchery-bred fish have all harm the native species, Young reported. And new sea lions will choose the place of individuals that are killed, she additional.

“It really is simpler to say, ‘If I get rid of that sea lion, at least I preserve him from consuming that fish.’ But if you you should not deal with the lead to of the problem, you’re not likely to help the fish,” she mentioned. “It truly is like a treadmill of loss of life. You eliminate just one, and a different one will come.”

Whilst Oregon awaits word on the sea lions’ fate, wildlife professionals are trapping them and hauling them to the ocean, which can sometimes seem to be futile.

Five days immediately after his 2 ½-hour push to the Oregon coastline, #U253 was again at Willamette Falls, hungry for extra fish.

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Adhere to Gillian Flaccus on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/gflaccus .



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Fight of species pits guarded sea lions vs. fragile fish