On Monday, members of the Sea Lion Defense Brigade reported finding 19 bullet casings on the East End Mooring Basin causeway. Over the Easter weekend, they’d posted pictures of several animals on their Facebook page with open wounds and pockmarks that look as if they’d been shot.
“We can tell you that NOAA office of law enforcement has received a complaint, and we are investigating the possible shooting of sea lions at the East End Mooring Basin,” said Sean Stanley, a special agent with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Stanley wouldn’t comment further, citing the ongoing case.
Sea lions and other pinnipeds are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. NOAA authorizes wildlife managers in Oregon and Washington to trap and kill fewer than 100 sea lions a year seen eating salmon at the Bonneville Dam.
But there have been recent reports, from the one in Astoria to others along the North Coast, of them washing up on beaches with what could be bullet wounds.
Anyone with information about any violations of the marine mammal act are asked to call NOAA’s hotline at 800-853-1964.
Port of Astoria Executive Director Jim Knight said NOAA went to the basin and found 19 .380-caliber bullet casings, and the Port has turned over surveillance video to investigators. Knight said he’s been told of a few dead sea lions, including one on Clatsop Spit, another at the basin and another in between the U.S. Coast Guard cutters on the 17th Street Dock.
Fort Stevens State Park Ranger Dustin Bessette said he’s noticed six sea lions between Gearhart and the South Jetty washing up dead.
“It’s kind of early,” he said, adding that sea lions washing up are a yearly occurrence. “I expect them to show up on the beach to molt, but I’ve only seen one of those.”
On one occasion, Bessette said, he went to the beach with an assistant from the Seaside Aquarium and found a dead sea lion with what first looked to him like a wound from a .22-caliber rifle or bird shot.
“It looks to be bullet holes from someone shooting them,” he said. “My guess is a fisherman, right off the bat.”
Bessette cautioned that only a necropsy can tell for certain whether they were bullet holes.
“If it’s one that shows up on the beach, we tell the Seaside Aquarium,” Bessette said. “If we don’t get to it within three or four days, my response last year was to bury them.”
Tiffany Boothe, an administrative assistant at the Seaside Aquarium, said her organization helps with the necropsies and does get reports of a number of shot animals each year.
“In the recent week, we’ve been getting a lot of calls,” Boothe said. “Usually, they’re from the Sea Lion Defense Brigade. They’re reporting all sorts of things.”
Stanley reported earlier this month to the Chinook Observer that NOAA’s case into the killing of a mother harbor seal on the Long Beach (Wash.) Peninsula last year was closed, with no actionable leads. The seal had been run over. (See related story)
The Sea Lion Defense Brigade monitors actions regarding sea lions on their Facebook page, decrying their treatment. It has more than 4,000 likes and has been around for several years.
Another Facebook page, “You Know You Hate Sea Lions When …” started March 25 as a sort of online rebuttal, a place for people to voice their displeasure with sea lions. Some of its more than 200 members went so far as to post photos of buckshot shells and other ammunition, talking about the bygone days when fishermen could simply shoot sea lions eating their fish.
“Met a few (sea lions) on the shrimp grounds, They are no longer active,” Ted Johnson wrote on the page. Stig Johannessen, a commenter on the page, later clarified that Johnson was writing about incidents 30 years ago.