The Port of Astoria in Oregon is battling an unusual challenge - how to rid the area of the over 2,300 sea lions that have taken up residence on the piers, without harming them. That's because while the squabbling pinnipeds may be adorable to look at, they are a nuisance and extremely destructive, especially in such large numbers.
The ever increasing population of the animals has caused 100,000 USD in damages to utilities and docks, just this year. They have also cost the city thousands of dollars in lost income from boat owners who previously used the docks to anchor their boats. Also, the mounds of feces that has to be cleaned on a daily basis is not just expensive, but also a health hazard. However, the biggest issue with the sea lions is the rate at which they are consuming salmon. In addition to hurting local fisheries it could decimate the area's fish population if not stopped in time.
To persuade the unwelcome guests to leave, port officials have removed a few docks and strung brightly colored surveying tape to stop them from leaping onto the two that still have boats tied to them. Last month, they lined a small area of a sea lion occupied dock with electrified mats. Designed by Virginia's Smith-Root Fisheries, the mats are fitted with parallel cables that are placed four inches apart and carry a positive and negative charge. When a wet sea lion or even just its flipper comes in contact with the two cables, it completes the circuit, resulting in a small jolt of electricity, that is more annoying to the animal than harmful.
Unfortunately, the mats that have been effective in scaring sea lions perched on ocean oil rigs did not work as well here. Not only did they fail to deliver shocks to dry pinnipeds, but they were also not potent on the wet ones. The company believes the lack of salt in the water weakens the conductivity of the charge, resulting in extremely weak electric shocks.
While Smith-Root Fisheries attempts to solve the issues, Astoria port officials are preparing to try a new low-tech technique - introducing a fake fiberglass "Willy" to scare the sea lions away. In a few weeks, a 16-ft-long remote-controlled orca will be spotted traversing the area of the Columbia River the sea lions have taken over. To make the killer whale appear as 'real' as possible, it has been equipped with acoustics that sound similar to what the animals croon in the wild.
The fake orca belongs to Terry Buzzard of Island Mariner Cruises, who uses it to promote his business during parades and events. Buzzard says that when he heard about Astoria's problems, he decided to call the port officials and see it they wanted to try using the marketing prop to scare the animals away.
This is not the first time a fake whale has been summoned for this job. In 1996, a similar one was anchored in the waters of Puget Sound to scare the sea lions that were devouring the already dwindling supply of steelhead at Seattle's Ballard Locks fish ladder. However, the wily animals were smart enough to realize that the fiberglass structure was an impersonator and refused to budge. Will a slightly more sophisticated version - one that moves and sings like the real whale be more effective? Astoria's officials and the fishermen and boat owners that reside in the region, sure hope so!
Resources: usia.com, dailyastorian.com,huffingtonpost.com, oregonlive.com