A sea lion that had taken up residence in the Hood River Marina was lethally removed by wildlife officials on June 17.
The sea lion — affectionately called “Leo” — was first spotted in April and has been making frequent appearances since.
“This was the only (sea lion) I’ve ever heard of that’s frequented the Hood River Marina,” said Bryan Wright, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW). Wright said that this sea lion is likely the same one that was branded in Astoria in 2015, “and obviously (he) went up the Columbia and made it through the lock.”
On April 22, the Hood River Police Department made a Facebook post alerting residents of the “new visitor in town,” and reminding folks to “treat these wild animals with respect, do not feed, do not approach, and do not try to RIDE one!”
While initially friendly, Leo entered mating season around June and, according Marina Manager Darryl Stafford’s June 13 report to the Marina Committee, “Leo has become quite disruptive, aggressive and causing damage to the Shell dock. He is at the height of breeding season with no girlfriend in sight, therefore he is pretty darn grumpy when bothered. Kids trying to take selfies with him are at risk. Leo bit the sheriffs boat last weekend when he was trying to get him off the dock. Port staff has requested help from other agencies to relocate him.”
The Oregon and Washington Departments of Fish and Wildlife and the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission coordinated with the Port of Hood River to organize the sea lion’s removal. They scheduled an operation for June 17-18 with the hopes that they’d be able to find and catch him in those two days, since scheduling conflicts meant they wouldn’t have another chance to try until August.
A crew consisting of Oregon and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and Columbia River Inter-Tribal Commission officials, representatives of the Port of Hood River and a deputy with the Hood River County Sheriff’s Office, arrived at the Hood River Marina the morning of June 17 to find the sea lion already hauled up on the dock.
“I was giving it a 50/50 chance we would even see him, but we just got lucky,” said Wright.
What typically happens in these types of removal operations, Wright said, is that after a spending a significant amount of time trying to capture the animal, the sea lion is hit with a tranquilizer, but disappears into the water trying to escape. And that’s what happened during the removal operation in the Marina Basin.
“Essentially, they end up drowning, but our intention is to capture them alive,” Wright said. “The thought is that this can be considered a relatively humane level of death, in the manner that they lose consciousness before they drown.”
In these cases, officials are usually unable to recover the animal’s body. This case was no different — though search and rescue divers performed a thorough search of the marina and confirmed that the sea lion is no longer there.
“The objective is always to recover the animal, but it just didn’t happen this time,” said Ben Anderson, a representative of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The federal Marine Mammal Protection Act was modified in 1994 to allow states to apply for limited lethal removal authority under a narrow set of circumstances; in March 2008, fish and wildlife agencies in Oregon, Washington and Idaho received federal authorization to remove California sea lions observed to be repeatedly preying on salmon and steelhead below Bonneville Dam.
“Leo” is the third to be lethally removed from the Gorge since late 2015 — the other two were both removed from the same houseboat in The Dalles marina in fall 2018 and fall 2015, respectively.
When asked about the scope of the
When asked about the scope of the problem sea lions pose in the Bonneville Pool, Wright answered, “even though they’re few in numbers, they tend to stay there for years,” adding that they will often go as far up river as they can — frequently getting stuck near The Dalles Dam — and then feed on endangered fish in tribal fishing grounds until they are removed.
Since the ‘90s, California sea lions have consumed thousands of Columbia and Willamette river salmon and steelhead waiting to move up the fish ladders at Bonneville Dam and Willamette Falls — many from threatened and endangered runs protected under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA), according to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s website.
“While exclusion gates keep sea lions out of the fishways, other non-lethal deterrents such as pyrotechnics and rubber buckshot fired at them have only a temporary effect,” said a statement on the website.