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Minke whale © Ursula Tscherter - ORES

The whale trappers are back with their cruel experiment

Anyone walking past my window might have heard my groan of disbelief at the news...
Boto © Fernando Trujillo

Meet the legendary pink river dolphins

Botos don't look or live like other dolphins. Flamingo-pink all over with super-skinny snouts and...
Risso's dolphin entangled in fishing line and plastic bags - Andrew Sutton

The ocean is awash with plastic – can we ever clean it up?

You've seen pictures of plastic litter accumulating on beaches or marine wildlife swimming through floating...
Fin whale

Is this the beginning of the end for whaling off Iceland?

I'm feeling cautiously optimistic after Iceland's Fisheries Minister Svandís Svavarsdóttir wrote that there is little...
Mykines Lighthouse, Faroe Islands

Understanding whale and dolphin hunts in the Faroe Islands – why change is not easy

Most people in my home country of the Faroe Islands would like to see an...

Dolphin scientists look like you and me – citizen science in action

Our amazing volunteers have looked out for dolphins from the shores of Scotland more than...
Atlantic white-sided dolphins

The Faroes dolphin slaughter that sparked an outcry now brings hope

Since the slaughter of at least 1,423 Atlantic white-sided dolphins at Skálafjørður in my home...
Fin whale

From managing commercial slaughter to saving the whale – the International Whaling Commission at 75

Governments come together under the auspices of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) to make decisions...

US Senate wants to kill nearly 1,000 sea lions a year

I have sad news to share – the US Senate has just passed legislation that will allow nearly 1,000 sea lions to be killed each year in the Columbia River that borders Washington and Oregon states.  The bill has already passed the House of Representatives, and is now on its way to becoming law.

We’ve been following this legislation closely because of its connection to the critically endangered Southern Resident orcas and the salmon they depend on.  Seals and sea lions have long been viewed as competitors with people for salmon and other fish, and are often wrongly blamed for declining fish populations.  While seals and sea lions do eat a small percentage of the salmon coming into the Columbia River Basin, they are not the root cause of the salmon decline.  As sea lions die, human-built dams will continue to block salmon passage, pollutants continue to enter watersheds, and non-native fish will continue to eat millions of young salmon each year.  These non-native fish have often been intentionally introduced into river systems simply for the pleasure of those who want to catch them for sport.  Sadly, these ongoing human causes of salmon decline will be ignored as both salmon and orcas spiral dangerously close to extinction in the Pacific Northwest.

Even worse, this push to kill seals and sea lions in an attempt to ‘manage’ the ecosystem has been sold by some as a tool to help the critically endangered Southern Resident orcas.  The Washington State Southern Resident Recovery Task Force, a governor appointed group of stakeholders,  even recommended supporting this bill despite opposition from WDC, the public, and many other groups involved in the Task Force process.

A Dangerous Precedent

At a time when the US is facing numerous attacks on environmental and conservation laws, we need to uphold and protect the important law that protects whales, dolphins, seals, sea lions and other marine mammals – the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA). This bill sets a terrible precedent for undermining the very foundation of the MMPA.  Killing seals and sea lions won’t actually help salmon or orcas.  Salmon have declined for a number of reasons, many of them complicated and interconnected – a loss of habitat, altering rivers with dams and barriers, impacts from poor hatchery and harvest management, and contamination in watersheds.

Shifting the blame

Blaming seals and sea lions shifts the focus away from human accountability for the actions that have led to declining salmon runs, and diverts limited resources and time away from tackling things that will help salmon recover, like restoring habitat, reducing pollution, and removing dams. 

Additionally, the bill is poorly written and misinterprets information on declining salmon populations.  It removes public oversight of this culling and increases by 10 times the number of sea lions that can be killed each year – from about 100 to almost 1,000 sea lions every year.  The bill ignores the other factors that can cause salmon to die – natural mortality, poaching, and predation by other species.  And in an unfortunate side effect, support at the federal level encourages ’vigilante’ killing of sea lions.  A recent spate of shootings in Puget Sound has led to 12 sea lions deaths in the last couple of months.

We need to work together

The Southern Resident orcas don’t need fewer seals and sea lions to survive – they need more salmon.  And we all (seals and sea lions included) would benefit from more salmon.  We need to work together on restoring habitat, removing deadbeat dams, and addressing contamination in watersheds.  Scapegoating sea lions simply because it’s the easiest thing to do is ineffective, wrong, and won’t address the reason for salmon declines.

With your support, WDC will continue to oppose this.