Saturday, May 07, 2005

When Endangered Animals Snack!

This AP article is about federally protected sea lions trying to enjoy their annual feast of also-protected salmon.

The sea lions have been feeding near the first dam on the Columbia River for years. But this year only about 100,000 salmon are expected to swim up the fish ladders at the Bonneville Dam on their return journey to spawn, less than half the 250,000 that had been forecast. Scientists don't know why the spring chinook run is only a fraction of what was expected.

Well, we didn't do a boffo job of knowing that the ivory-billed woodpecker was extant, not extinct. Have we looked hard? Perhaps the rest of the salmon, unaroused by the monotony of spawning ladders, are enjoying caipirinhas and casual sex off the coast of Rio.

The states and the Army Corps of Engineers, which operates Columbia River dams, had to get special permission from the NOAA Fisheries and the Coast Guard to run the two-day hazing experiment at Bonneville Dam. The joint operation Thursday involved dropping 21 "seal bombs," underwater firecrackers that send a mild shock wave that spreads about 20 to 30 feet beneath the surface of the river to scare the sea lions. The percussion devices do not pose a threat even to smaller animals, such as fish, Snyder said. "There's no evidence in all their years of use there's been any harm to fish," she said.

However, in contradictory reporting, a 1996 article from AP says(bolding mine):
Acoustical devices used to keep "voracious" harbor seals away from British Columbia salmon farms..."may also be giving killer whales and porpoises some headaches. Continued use of these devices can apparently have a "pronounced, highly significant" effect on harbor porpoises up to two miles away. Researcher Alexandra Morton notes that this system has "potential for far-ranging effects on non-target species." Government officials await further studies.

Okay, how do we (or did we?) research this one? We could just drop explosives in different bodies of fresh, saline, running, and still water. If no fish float to the top with Xs for eyes like in cartoons, we'll figure everything's fine. I'm not that tiny, and I think two days of underwater firecrackers and shock waves in even an olympic-sized swimming pool would work my nerves, and possibly my bowels according to indications from the sonic weapons front. Even if this is a normal fishing method for rednecks (ha, being of the South, I kid the South), it seems a little weird to have game authorities doing it. What if the increasing use of seal bombs has unknowingly disturbed the growth of a delicate, microscopic creature in the salmon's digestive canal that aids fruitful reproduction- oho, who'd be sorry then?!

Nature is fascinating and surprising, and any biologist can tell you how much is still mysterious. TONS. HEAPS. That's why so often, unless my particular species is threatened, I like to see how Nature works it out, because she has all the manuals. (Okay, Lousisiana's nutria hunt might seem like wholesome, varmint-shooting fun, but is it any more effective than bailing the Titanic with a teaspoon?) However, never say I'm not adaptive. If our nation's wildlife management goal is keeping scarce predators from hunting their scarce prey, I'm totally signing up for the study team to poke every marine creature in the eye and spray it with mace in case we need to evaluate more serious deterrents.

There's no question, if you're a sea lion, this whole situation blows. You've been ranked in preferential endangeredness, found wanting, and devalued below things you crap out. You might have thought with your dark lashed eyes, whiskers, comical locomotion and taxonomic proximity to human mammals, that we'd relate to you and let you go about your business. But no. Current fashion finds you disgusting with your corpulent blubber and leathery hide from extended exposure without sunscreen. Put down that oily fish, you glutton. We're going to create a salmon-shaped, organic soy patty that's ecologically responsible and lowers your body fat percentage. How do you feel about yummy rice cakes? It could be worse...

Indian tribes have already asked Oregon and Washington fishery officials to request federal permission to kill sea lions that prove to be repeat offenders at the dam.

Perhaps this will all work out. After all, salmon dishes on menus today are ubiquitous and largely boring. I'd love to see some Manhattan chefs - the first being French, of course, because they have a recipe for everything - revolutionize dining rooms with savory sea lion entrees. At last, an endangered species I can feel good about eating!

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