Phony Whale vs. Sea Lions II: The Re-Sea Lioning

A few weeks back, we reported on the Port of Astoria’s efforts to shoo away a pack of pesky sea lions from their docks using a 32-foot artificial orca whale. Score this round for the sea lions: just a few minutes into its maiden voyage, the fauxrca was felled by mechanical problems.

History Shows Again & Again How Nature Points Out the Folly of Man

Roughly a thousand onlookers cheered as the motorized, fiberglass orca—classified and registered as a boat—first took to the water last Thursday night. The sea lions, who have been crowding Astoria’s docks and making it difficult for boat owners to reach their vessels, fell silent as the robotic embodiment of their greatest natural predator approached.

In addition to its fearsome visage, the whalebot was outfitted with a sound system intended to play recordings of actual killer whale calls, specifically one real orcas sing after they’ve killed a seal or sea lion in the wild.

However, the wake of a passing cargo ship sealed the fauxrca’s fate. First it listed, then it capsized, before even the first notes of the song could be played. “Our crew from the port had to go rescue the operator so he didn’t drown,” said Jim Knight, executive director of the Port of Astoria.

Astoria, Oregon, soon to be Sea Lion City.

Astoria, Oregon, soon to be Sea Lion City.

Earlier that day, the mechanical sea beast faced other technical difficulties. It was delivered by truck from Bellingham, Warshington, loaned out to Astoria’s cause by Terry Buzzard of Island Mariner Whale Watching Cruises. But upon its arrival, the oddly-shaped boat’s outboard motor flooded and had to be replaced.

Still No Sea Lion Relief in Sight

About 2,300 sea lions have been holding court at Astoria’s docks, ten times the area’s population from a decade ago. The sea lion population along the West Coast has exploded since the animal’s became protected under federal law in 1972. Biologists say that the massive throng were attracted to the Astoria area by runs of smelt, small fishes have become a staple of the sea lions’ diet.

A number of previous efforts to shoo the sea lions away have failed. Astoria has already tried beach balls, chicken wire, brightly colored tape, and electrified mats.

Officials speculate that, by the end of the year, Astoria will be overrun by the creatures, who will turn it into Sea Lion City, a place where no humans are allowed and those who dare show their faces are thrown into the fighting pits to battle for their lives for the amusement of the sea lion overlords.

Photo credit: drburtoni / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND