PORTLAND, Ore. – The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife says a sea lion trapped below Bonneville Dam has become the first to be killed in a campaign to protect the salmon the animals feed on.
The sea lion that died March 12 by lethal injection was known as C-265. The state agency said a viral lesion indicated it had cancer, which could have spread to other animals if it had been kept captive.
C-265 was a repeat visitor to the dam, eligible to be killed or removed to a zoo or aquarium under new federal rules that followed years of debate over the sea lions’ role in dwindling Columbia River basin fish runs.
Trapping began this week. Sea lions that can’t be placed and are listed as repeat offenders will be killed. About 80 are in jeopardy.
Veterinarians are awaiting test results for a second animal, also a repeat visitor and captured March 11. If healthy, he will go to the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago.
Agency spokesman Rick Hargrave said there are requests for one more sea lion from Shedd and for five from the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville, Texas, which originally had requested six.
Trapping is scheduled to continue into May.
Oregon and Washington, supported by Idaho and Columbia River tribes, requested permission under an amendment to the 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act to start removing sea lions in 2006. They got federal permission to take up to 85 a year for five years.
Hargrave said the two captured this week were C-265 and C-635. Captured sea lions have been branded over the years for future identification. The letter “C” designates the Columbia River.
Sea lions captured at the dam this season who are not listed will be marked and set free.
Marked, trapped sea lions for whom no homes can be found are to be killed by lethal injection under veterinary supervision. If the repeaters can’t be trapped, marksmen can shoot them on shore or within 50 feet of shore.
The sea lions arrive at the base of the dam on the Columbia River each spring to await the annual run of spring chinook salmon, who gather at the base waiting to pass over fish ladders to upriver spawning grounds.
Their observed take of the salmon has been as high as about four percent of the run.
C-265 is the first sea lion known to have been killed under the amendment to the 1972 law.
In 1995 NOAA Fisheries gave Washington state permission under the amendment to kill some of the sea lions at the locks in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood. But there was a public uproar and Sea World took three of the worst offenders before they could be killed.
The sea lions had nearly eradicated a steelhead run there.
On March 12, Hargrave said, only Steller sea lions were in the traps. They are larger and rarer than the Californians and listed as endangered, so they cannot be harmed. They tend to eat sturgeon, not salmon.
The California sea lions have recovered from near extinction in the 1930s, and while they are protected under the omnibus 1972 law, they are not threatened or endangered.
The Humane Society of the United States went through a long court fight to save the California sea lions.
Sharon Young, the society’s field director for marine mammal issues, said March 12 that the Humane Society still contends sea lions are but a small part of the pressure on the salmon runs and that more should be done to solve worse problems, such as fishing, hydroelectric dams and bird predation.
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