Sea lion branding in Astoria


Sea Shepherd activist group documents sea lion branding in Astoria

View full sizeA state fish and wildlife worker brands a California sea lion in Astoria Sunday.Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

Opponents of Oregon and Washington’s program to kill salmon-eating sea lions documented branding of 38 California sea lions in Astoria Sunday, including pictures and videos of what they see as an inhumane practice.Activists with the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society said the Astoria trap was so crowded that some animals almost drowned and some went into convulsions after branding. The group’s pictures show flames on the skin of some of the sea lions during the branding process.

“It is not humane in any sense of the word, and it’s pretty traumatic and horrific for these animals,” said Ashley Lenton, a campaign leader for Sea Shepherd’s Dam Guardian program.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has branded roughly 1,400 sea lions with numbers and letters since 1997 at Astoria’s east mooring basin. The branding allows observers from boats, planes and at Bonneville Dam to track the animals throughout their range, ODFW spokeswoman said Jessica Sall said.

Male sea lions follow salmon up the Columbia River and to Willamette Falls during the spring, before returning to mating grounds. The states are authorized to trap and kill up to 92 California sea lions a year at Bonneville, the first dam on the Columbia, if they’ve been observed eating salmon and don’t respond to hazing.

Sall said an estimated 400 sea lions were in the Columbia on Sunday, which may be a record. The spring chinook run is still early, and no sea lions have been captured or euthanized at the dam.

The Astoria trap, supported by plastic-covered foam, was not in danger of sinking and “the animals were never in danger of drowning,” Sall said.

Branding for two to three seconds burns away hair and the top layer of the animals’ skin, burning hair follicles so the hair doesn’t grow back, Sall said, About half the time, there’s a brief flash of flame from burning hair, she said.

The hot branding iron causes pain, but has been long used with cattle and is the most effective way to permanently mark the sea lions, Sall said.

Killing of California sea lions is designed to reduce their consumption of salmon and steelhead, including runs listed under the Endangered Species Act.

Opponents say human actions — fishing, operating hydropower dams and hatcheries, pollution and habitat destruction — kill far more salmon than sea lions do.


One Sea Lion Dead, Others in Serious Distress Following Branding by ODFW

The sea lion known as Justice begins to sink 
below the surface shortly before his death
Photo: Leslie Holding / Sea Shepherd

In the aftermath of the traumatic capture and cruel branding of 38 sea lions by Oregon Dept. of Fish & Wildlife (ODFW) at the Port of Astoria on Sunday, one sea lion has died and at least one animal remains in visible pain on the docks.

Starting at 9:50 this morning, Dam Guardians at the Port of Astoria noticed two sea lions in extreme distress following the brutal and painful branding by an ODFW worker on Sunday, March 24. One animal was observed on the pier, twitching and in excruciating pain. A second was on the river and completely incapacitated. The disabled animal was literally unable to keep his head above water and a sea lion friend was helping him stay afloat, until he slipped under and did not resurface. Sea lion #349 is now gone. The Dam Guardians on the ground named him “Justice” and observed a moment of silence for him.

“Justice was tortured and died courtesy of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and all of our taxpayer dollars,” said Ashley Lenton, on site Dam Guardian Campaign Leader. “The cavalier attitude expressed in news reports yesterday by Oregon Fish & Wildlife officials that branding is of no consequence is flat-out wrong,” she added. “These are wild animals. Not only does the trauma of being captured take its toll, the pain, bleeding and potential infection from hot irons being burned into their flesh IS painful, IS of consequence, and IS a big deal no matter what they tell you,” she added. “A dead sea lion is evidence enough.”

Sea lions are part of the Columbia River landscape and have been since before the Lewis & Clark expeditions. This river is as much their home as it is ours. The ODFW needs to stop blaming ‘federally protected’ sea lions for their own mismanagement of salmon populations. These animals have clearly been made into scapegoats.

The Dam Guardians campaign kicked off March 15th and is Sea Shepherd’s second sea lion defense campaign along the Columbia River. Up to 368 California sea lions face execution by Oregon and Washington state workers for the crime of eating endangered salmon on the Columbia River near the Bonneville Dam. The states are authorized to kill up to 92 of the federally protected pinnipeds annually through June 2016. The sea lions will be branded with hot irons, hazed with rubber bullets and explosives, and killed by lethal injection or shotgun for eating less than 4% of the salmon at the dam; last year they only took 1.6%. All of this mayhem is conducted on the taxpayers’ dime while commercial, sport, and tribal fisheries are allowed to take up to 17% of the same endangered salmon and the dam itself claims approximately 17% of adult salmon.

“The question is why are humans so greedy that we are not willing to share even the smallest percentage of salmon with the sea lions?” Lenton said.

The Dam Guardians will be on the ground at the Bonneville Dam and the Port of Astoria documenting this horrific scene and bringing it to the world through May 31, 2013. Sea Shepherd is asking concerned citizens to register their complaints with the offices of the Governors of Washington and Oregon. Read more about the horrific capture and branding in our article from Sunday March 24thMore Than 30 Sea Lions Captured and Branded at Port Of Astoria By Oregon Dept of Fish & Wildlife.

Donate to the effort or consider becoming a Dam Guardian.


• Sea lions consume between 0.4% and 4.2% of the 80,000 to 300,000 salmon that spawn in the Columbia River each year.

• The dams along the Columbia River take up to 60% of juvenile salmon and up to 17% of adult salmon.

• Human fishing activity takes approximately 17% of the adult salmon from the river.

• Non-native, introduced sport-fishing species consume up to 3 million young salmon a year.

• By-catch of Columbia River salmon in open ocean fisheries also contributes to the loss of Columbia River salmon.

 Source: Sea Shepherd

Editorial: SELVA-Vida Sin Fronteras

Editorial Committee

David Dunham

Arno Ambrosius

Gustavo López Ospina

Mariana Almeida

Frank Brouwer

Pieter Jan Brouwer

Assistant: Emilia Romero

The Amazon Pink Dolphin’s Voice is associated with the International Environmental Mission, a grass roots citizens movement created by Chilean Senator Juan Pablo Letelier.

SELVA Vida Sin Fronteras acknowledges Kevin Schafer’s important contribution towards protecting the highly endangered Amazon pink fresh water dolphin. Title photographs of our “The Amazon Pink Dolphin’s Voice” were taken by Mr. Schafer. 


~ by FSVSF Admin on 27 March, 2013.

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