Unsolved Sea Lion Death Spotlights Fight over Salmon

May 08, 2008 09:30 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
by Josh Katz
The controversy surrounding the deaths of six federally protected sea lions on May 4 has taken a new turn. Federal officials now claim the sea lions were not shot to death, as originally believed.

30-Second Summary

Initially, officials indicated human involvement was to blame for the deaths. But a preliminary necropsy "found no evidence of recent gunshot wounds," according to the Associated Press. Wildlife enforcement officer Mark Oswell said human involvement is still a possibility, but heat exhaustion or panic could also be feasible.

"The necropsy results showed shallow puncture wounds in one animal consistent with sea lion bite marks, and X-rays found metal fragments in soft tissue near the neck of two animals," the Associated Press reports.

On May 4, the sea lions were found dead near the Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River between Oregon and Washington. A day earlier, three elephant seals were discovered shot to death at a central California breeding ground, and authorities are searching for any possible connections between the two cases.

The unlawful killing of the sea lions comes amid a legal battle over a controversial federal policy to allow such killings.

Sea lion populations have been growing in the Pacific Northwest since the Marine Mammal Protection Act went into effect in 1972. Meanwhile, salmon populations have become endangered in the area.

Sea lions feed on salmon, and fishermen and American Indian tribes have lobbied to cut down the number of sea lions to protect the salmon. In March, “The National Marine Fisheries Service granted permission to [Oregon and Washington] to target as many as 85 sea lions a year near the Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River,” Reuters reported.

The Humane Society of the United States has stood in opposition to any authorization to kill the sea lions, however, and the question has been brought to the courts. At the end of April an appeals court issued a temporary injunction against the killing of the sea lions while the matter is sorted out. Since then, state agents have been trapping the sea lions instead.

In the recent killings, the sea lions were found dead in the closed traps.

Headline Link: ‘Officials now say sea lions weren't shot to death in Oregon’

Background: Declining salmon populations and rising seal numbers

Opinion & Analysis: For and against the sea lion reduction measures

Related Links: Struggling fish populations and the delisting of the gray wolf


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