Dam Guardians and the Bonneville Dam

Well, yesterday, May 4, 2012 was my first day as a Dam Guardian for Sea Shepherd. I traveled down to the Bonneville Dam at the Washington/Oregon boarder with my friend Eloisa. We had signed up to be Dam Guardians shortly after learning the government was ordering California Sea Lions be trapped and killed for eating salmon. We got to Portland, Oregon late on Thursday night and slept for a few hours. We got up at 4:30am on Friday and drove to the Washington side of the dam where we met another Dam Guardian, Katie. She had been there before monitoring the activity and was able to give us the lay of the land. As we were standing there watching with our cameras and binoculars, a couple of men in uniforms parked across the river and were watching us. At one point they even waved as Eloisa was looking at them through the binoculars. We were greeted shortly after by a couple more men who had been informed by the woman at the gate that it was our first time there. They wanted to make sure we knew where we could go and what was off limits. They seemed nice enough but clearly we were being watched.

It was cold, cloudy and rainy most of the day. We saw several sea lions playing in the rough waters and rain. We saw two eating fish as they swam by us. Two men stood on the dam looking out over the river. One had binoculars and the other had a gun. Katie told us they shoot off hazing shots and explosives from there when the sea lions get too close. The traps remained empty the whole time we were there which was a good thing of course. Around maybe 10:30am or so the boat that patrols the area drove past. There were 3 men on board and Katie once again told us about them. That boat apparently drives back and forth chasing the sea lions and firing shots at them. It was definitely eerie to hear pops and explosives going off while we were standing in the rain along the shore. At one point as the boat went by the shore where we were standing it fired off a shot. (NOT at all aimed at us) The men seemed amused as we jumped at the unexpected ‘pop’. The sea lions were not near that spot at that moment so it was clear that was just for us to remind us that they do not like our presence there.

All in all it was a quiet day and no sea lions were trapped, branded or killed. So far the government has killed 9 California Sea Lions and sent one poor soul to a life of captivity at an aquarium in Chicago. The sea lions consume 2-4% of the salmon on the Columbia River. Fishermen take 17% of the salmon  and the dam itself claims the lives of 7-16% of the adult fish. Clearly the sea lions are not the reason for the current salmon population problems. They are simply the scapegoat for a group of government entities that do not want to take responsibility for destroying an ecosystem. Humans have driven the salmon into a state of decline with their fishing, habitat destruction, dam construction, and even the introduction of farmed fish and non-native fish.

I am hoping to travel to the dam again this Friday so stay tuned!
Thanks for reading!

~Rachel

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Categories: Animal Welfare, dam guardians, Marine Wildlife, sea lions, Sea Shepherd | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

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3 thoughts on “Dam Guardians and the Bonneville Dam

  1. Complicated issue… but my suspicion is that the figures you quote are accurate; it seems unlikely that sea lions are a serious threat to salmon numbers. Dams, poor farming and timber practices, and over fishing are, as (perhaps) are the artificial islands that have been created and which serve as nesting and roosting grounds for terns and other birds that pray on salmon smolts. Here’s a question: are they (the governing agencies) still permitting gill nets in the main stem of the Columbia? If so, Why??

  2. Great article! Your numbers are absolutely correct! The sea lions are the scapegoats and the fisherman had one great advocate to push this terrible injustice through Mr. Jim Levy from NOAA. He also signs all the “incidental take” permits for sonar and air gun use. So grateful you are there!!

    • Thank you Kirsten! Hopefully I can get down there again this week. I am even more hopeful for the Sea Lion’s day in court next Tuesday 🙂

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