According to a recent article, there were more than 1,000 seals and sea lions in the Astoria boat basin on a single day in 2015.
That is about half the total number there were in Oregon in 1956. I was a fisheries biology major on a day-long field trip in May of that year. From Garibaldi to Astoria we saw no seals or sea lions and we were with people who knew where to look. There definitely were none in the Columbia River because Bill Puustinen didn’t allow them to stay in the river. He was the seal hunter the Fish Commission hired in the 1950s and 1960s to manage the seals and sea lions.
I only had the pleasure of meeting Bill one time when I was a kid, but was impressed with his stories about herding these pinnipeds back to sea. He claimed they were very smart and he only had to kill a few to make them fear him. He said a fisherman would report there was a sea lion or seal in the river and all he had to do was start his boat and they would be heading back to sea. He claimed they recognized the sound of his boat as far away as eight miles.
Back to the field trip. When we returned to class the following week there was justifiable concern for the fact there were only about 1,000 seals and 1,000 sea lions in Oregon waters. I didn’t see anything wrong when the marine mammal protection act came into existence. Unfortunately, emotions now trump reason.
Seals and sea lions no longer need protection but endangered fish do. The Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) is spending about $500 million dollars a year of electrical ratepayers’ money trying to protect and enhance these fish.
What can we do? We can be creative. If the military can drive ISIS out of Iraq, our National Guard should be able to drive a few thousand seals and sea lions out of the Columbia. I would think the military could come up with some non-lethal ordnances to assist in hazing these animals out to sea.
After you get them out of the river, in might be advisable to hire a few Finnish descendants in Astoria to keep them out, doing whatever needs to be done.