The 700-pound sea lion blinked in the sun, sniffed the sea air, and then lazily shifted to the edge of the truck bed and plopped onto the beach below. Freed from the cage that carried him to the ocean, the massive marine mammal shuffled into the surf, looked left, looked right, and then started swimming north as a collective groan went up from wildlife officials who watched from the shore. After two days spent trapping and relocating the animal designated #U253, he was headed back to where he started—an Oregon river 130 miles from the Pacific Ocean that has become an all-you-can-eat fish buffet for hungry sea lions. It's a frustrating dance between California sea lions and Oregon wildlife managers that's become all too familiar in recent months. The state is trying to evict dozens of the federally protected animals from an inland river where they feast on salmon and steelhead that are listed under the Endangered Species Act, the AP reports.
The bizarre survival war has intensified recently as the sea lion population rebounds and fish populations decline in the Pacific Northwest. The sea lions 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 due to 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, with at least one threatened species of fish in danger of going extinct due to sea lion predation and other fragile fish populations in harm's way. That's why biologists have applied with the federal government to kill the worst offenders. The AP has much more on the controversial move.