California sea lions (Zalophus californianus californianus) are large marine mammals in the pinniped suborder which also include seals and walruses. Male California sea lions can measure up to eight feet long and reach a weight of 700-800 pounds. Females reach about six feet in length and weigh up to 250 pounds. They are found from the southern tip of Baja California to southeast Alaska and feed on a variety of fish and shellfish, including salmon, steelhead, herring, mackerel, lamprey, codfish, walleye, and squid. Sea lions are currently threatened by marine pollution, global warming, climate change and high mercury levels in the fish they eat.
A group of lawmakers are pushing a bill aimed at reducing the number of sea lions that reside in the Bonneville Dam, claiming they endanger fish populations. The bill is being introduced to save endangered fish in the Columbia River system and would authorize authorities to use lethal force to remove sea lions from the area!
Sea lions are predators and naturally prey on fish, but despite this fact, they eat only 4% of the fish population. In 2010, there were around 80 sea lions in the dam and now there are over 600. In March 2008, fish and wildlife agencies in Washington, Oregon and Idaho received federal authorization to remove California sea lions that have been observed preying on salmon and steelhead below Bonneville Dam. The federal authorization allows wildlife managers to use lethal measures to remove sea lions that meet specific criteria, although the states’ first priority has been to relocate them to zoos and aquariums. Through 2014, wildlife managers removed a total of 73 California sea lions, 13 of which were sent to zoos and aquaria. The number of salmon consumed by sea lions below the dam has declined in the past two years, but predation rates are still in the thousands. The states are authorized to kill 92 of the federally protected pinnipeds annually through June 2016. The sea lions will be branded and killed by lethal injection for eating less than 4% of the salmon at the dam. These sea lions are being seen as a threat, but human fishing practices take more than 16% of the fish populations per year. The current bill proposed would authorize people trained by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to kill California sea lions and harbor seals threatening the fish populations, and would amend the Marine Mammal Protection Act. California sea lions are an important part of the marine food chain and killing sea lions in the Columbia River will not change the future for the salmon populations, but will further threaten this incredible species.
Written by: Stefanie
**Photos taken by Stefanie Schmidt