All hell breaks loose when an Eskimo clubs a seal.
Oregon wildlife officials have started killing sea lions that threaten a fragile run of winter steelhead in the Willamette River.
The state Department of Fish and Wildlife obtained a federal permit in November to kill up to 93 California sea lions annually below Willamette Falls south of Portland, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported Wednesday.
Officials have so far killed three of the animals using traps they used last year to relocate the sea lions.
The sea lions have learned that they can loiter under the waterfall and snack on the vulnerable steelhead as they struggle to make their way over the falls and back into the streams where they hatched in order to spawn.
The animals breed each summer off Southern California and northern Mexico, then the males cruise up the Pacific Coast to forage. Hunted for their thick fur, the mammals’ numbers dropped dramatically but have rebounded from 30,000 in the late 1960s to about 300,000 today because of the 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act.
With their numbers growing, the dog-faced pinnipeds are venturing ever farther inland on the watery highways of the Columbia River and its tributaries in Oregon and Washington — and their appetite is having disastrous consequences, scientists say.
In Oregon, the sea lions are intercepting protected fish on their way to spawning grounds above Willamette Falls, a horseshoe-shaped waterfall about 25 miles (40 kilometers) south of Portland. Last winter, a record-low 512 wild winter steelhead completed the journey, state wildlife officials say.
Less than 30 years ago, that number was more than 15,000, according to state numbers.
The sea lions were eating so many winter steelhead at the falls that certain runs were at a high risk of going extinct, according to a 2017 study by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The state now plans to kill about 40 sea lions that frequent the falls by May, said Bryan Wright, a program manager for the department. The number of sea lions that return to the river should drop to single digits following the killings, he said.