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Sea Lions on Wildlife Hit List Again

Columbia River in 2012, file photo from Flickr.
Flickr: Five Acre Geographic

Hungry hordes of seals and sea lions have been gathering at the mouth of the Columbia River to gorge on fish returning from the sea. Right now, the prey is smelt - small oily fish that travel up the river in huge numbers. But wildlife managers worry about endangered fish which will follow the smelt this month and next - salmon and sturgeon.

A large spring chinook salmon return - more than 300,000 of them - is beginning to migrate into the Columbia River.

The canny sea lions know the fish will jam up below the Bonneville Dam, creating a virtual smorgasbord for them. Federal and state biologists estimate that up to 45 percent of the returning salmon will disappear between the river estuary and the dam - and they blame much of the loss on the sea lions.

A US Army Corps of Engineers report blamed 137 sea lions for gobbling up 5,000 salmon last spring despite an effort to scare them away from fish ladders with firecrackers.

Following contentious legal battles over the past several years, river managers now have the authority to kill the most egregious sea lion fish-eating offenders. But the process is complex and requires precise identification of the animals. At the end of last year, four sea lions- identified by numbers - were on the hit list, after 15 others were killed.

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