Thursday, April 12, 2012

An Advocate's Guide to the Scapegoated Sea Lions at Bonneville Dam

Bonneville Sea Lion, photo courtesy of the Sea Lion Defense Brigade
Why all of the ruckus about Sea Lions at the Bonneville Dam?
On March 15, 2012, NOAA Fisheries issued a letter authorizing the states of Oregon, Washington and Idaho to use lethal means to remove up to 92 salmon-eating sea lions from the Bonneville Dam.

Following the release of the letter, the Humane Society of the United States filed a lawsuit and sought a temporary restraining order to prevent the killings.  The lawsuit is pending, however a federal judge denied the restraining order.  Judge James Boasberg did rule that 30 sea lions (not 92) can be killed per year and that the method of killing shall be by lethal injection.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife reports that since 2008, the Oregon and Washington departments of fish and wildlife have removed at least 40 California sea lions from below Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River. Ten were placed in zoos and aquaria across the country, 25 were euthanized and five died after they were captured.

The states claim they are removing the sea lions in an effort to protect threatened and endangered populations of salmon and steelhead. The California sea lion is a protected species under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. However, the states of Oregon, Washington and Idaho have been granted permission to remove the sea lions by NOAA –Fisheries, the federal agency responsible for managing marine animals. The authority was granted under Section 120 of the act and allows the states to use lethal and non-lethal (hazing) means to remove individual California sea lions that have been documented eating salmon or steelhead in the Columbia River below Bonneville Dam.

How much fish do the sea lions eat?
According to the NOAA, The proportion of the run consumed by sea lions varies depending on run size. It has generally ranged between 2 and 4% since 2004, but was just 1.6% in 2011.  The Humane Society of the United States reports that fisheries harvest 17% of these same fish.

Which sea lions can be killed?
Only certain sea lions can be killed.  These animals must meet the following criteria:
  • Must be individually identifiable through natural or applied features (usually a brand)
  • Have been observed eating salmonids in the Bonneville Dam area between Jan. 1 and May 31 of any year
  • Have been observed on a total of any five days (consecutive days, days within a single season, or days over multiple years) between Jan. 1 and May 31
  • Have been subjected to but not responded to non-lethal hazing (rubber buckshot, firecrackers, noisemakers and other deterrents)
Why the urgency?
The 30 sea lions can be captured and killed at any time now!

What happens when they catch sea lions on their hit list?
According to the Sea Lion Defense Brigade, the traps are visible from the Washington side, but when they catch animals they cover them with tarps, bring around the death barge, and drag them off around the Island - they are still visible then from the Oregon side by the intrepid.

Which are some of the key organizations working to help the Bonneville sea lions?
Humane Society of the United States - For the past several years, the Humane Society has been championing the cause of the Bonneville Sea Lions in court, in congress and with federal and state agencies.  For a complete history of their important work, click on this link:
Bonneville Dam Sea Lions Under Siege: The Humane Society of the United States

Sea Shepherd Conservation Society - Volunteers with Sea Shepherd have visited the Bonneville Dam multiple times since the release of the March 15 letter of authorization.  For more on Sea Shepherd’s position on the Bonneville sea lions & to learn about their "Dam Guardian" campaign, click on this link: Sea Shepherd: Impressions on the Bonneville Dam

Sea Lion Defense Brigade - a grassroots campaign on the ground at the Dam monitoring, recording and reporting on activities impacting the Bonneville Sea Lions.  Please follow them on facebook at:

Save Misty the Dolphins - started the petition to Save the Bonneville Sea Lions, reports on activities impacting them & uses social media to support their cause.  Please follow us on facebook at:

How can YOU help the Bonneville Sea Lions?
1. Sign and share the petition at Director, Office of Protected Resources, NOAA: Don't Kill the Bonneville Sea Lions

2. Contact the Governors of Oregon and Washington state to urge them to stop the senseless killing of the Bonneville Sea Lions:

Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber:
phone: (503) 378-4582
twitter: @govkitz

Washington Governor Chris Gregoire:
phone: (360) 902-4111
twitter: @govgregoire

* we have heard from many folks that the Governors' offices are responding to callers with commentary suggesting this is a federal issue.  Please be very clear in your understanding, THE STATES REQUESTED AUTHORIZATION TO USE LETHAL MEANS TO REMOVE THE SEA LIONS FROM THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT - NOT VISA-VERSA!

3. Please join the on-the-ground efforts of the Sea Lion Defense Brigade or Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

4. Make a tax-deductible donation to: The Humane Society of the United States and/or Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

5. Tell everyone you know about the scapegoated sea lions of Bonneville Dam.

6. Never be silent - never give up!

Additional background reading:

Scapegoating + Bad Math = Devastation for Federally Protected Sea Lions at the Bonneville Dam

Op-Ed: Two sea lions killed at Bonneville Dam

State officials perplexed by sea lion killings

Please be sure to watch this eye-opening video:


  1. When the right thing to do is so clear to all that possess a conscious and hold compasion, yet the government and law torn between keeping the masses within barriers of choice and freewill and the dollar. Then the majority of the masses DO hold a conscious and possess compasion and would truely give freewill and life before the dollar. What a twisted web is woven.People power is still alive and is the only way forward. Now we have technology on our side spreading the word fast. Its time we put things right.

  2. Did not see a petition link here. Please post a link to the actual petition here as well to encourage more signatures. Typing in Petition for Bonneville Sea Lions now... Thanks for all you are doing to help this group of targeted sea lions. <3