An effort to use a fake, life-sized orca to scare off hundreds of sea lions crowding docks off the Oregon coast ended, at least temporarily, with the fiberglass creature belly-up after it was swamped by a passing ship. Still, Jim Knight of the Port of Astoria says the sea lions briefly "got deathly silent" when the orca sailed into view. That was just before it started listing and tipped over last night. Once the 32-foot killer whale replica is dried out and repaired, "There's a chance we'll do it again" today, Knight says. Earlier yesterday, officials had to find a replacement motor for the fake orca—actually a boat with a driver inside—that belongs to a whale-watching business. Sea lions have become a nuisance to Astoria and commercial fishermen because they damage docks, prevent boaters from using the docks, and eat lots of salmon.
Once equipped with the replacement motor, the fake orca "was going fairly well and then a cargo ship came by and its wake swamped the whale," Knight says. "Our crew from the port had to go rescue the operator so he didn't drown. ... You can't make this stuff up." There may have been an effect on the sea lions beyond their brief silence. Knight said there were 400 to 500 yesterday morning and perhaps 200 by evening, when the fake orca was tied up to the docks where they rest. But Knight wishes the orca had gotten a chance to play its recordings of real killer whale calls, especially the "call to dinner"—usually emitted in the wild after they kill a sea lion or seal. (Read more orca stories.)