May 5, 2008

Federal Officials Investigate Sea Lion Shootings

Over the weekend, six federally protected sea lions were shot and killed by an unknown gunman.

The carcasses of the four California sea lions and two Steller sea lions were found Sunday around noon below the Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River on the border of Oregon and Washington.

The sea lions were killed while they were in humane traps set by government officials at the Dam.

The shooting came less than two weeks after a three-judge panel of the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals granted the states permission to begin trapping operations, although it also issued a preliminary injunction preventing the states from killing any sea lions this spring. Agents had been trapping them instead.

The decision to trap the sea lions arose from a need to balance the populations of sea lions and salmon.

However, many American Indian tribes and fishermen have insisted on removal of the sea lions by any force necessary in order to protect the salmon population in the region.

Trapping will be suspended during the ongoing investigation, said Rick Hargrave, a spokesman for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The six animals appear to have been shot by somebody on the Washington side during the night, said Brian Gorman, a spokesman for the National Marine Fisheries Service.

The area is being treated as a crime scene by state and federal agencies, Gorman said.

Investigators are trying to determine if there is a link between the sea lion shootings and the discovery of the shootings of three elephant seals at a breeding ground near San Simeon, Calif.

Washington and Oregon have been granted federal authorization to capture or kill as many as 85 sea lions a year for five years at the base of the dam.

The Humane Society of the United States has gone to court to challenge the authorization, with another hearing set for May 8. Until a judge rules, no animals may be legally killed.

"We're really shocked," said Sharon Young, a Humane Society spokeswoman, who learned about the sea lion deaths from a reporter. "We're a nation of laws, and we should expect people to abide by them."


Image Courtesy David Ball (Wikimedia)


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