What Killed Sea Lion B198?
Shortly before the ghastly discovery of six sea lion deaths in the traps up at Bonneville, another sea lion, branded B198, was captured in those same traps. He was transported with several others up to Tacoma, to be held and examined, and was then supposed to be transported to a life of captivity in a zoo. But B198 never made it out of Tacoma. He died in captivity, while being examined under anesthesia. Like the six sea lions found in the traps, B198 was a casualty of the irrational campaign to remove sea lions from their ancestral home on the Columbia.
If you've read corporate media reports, you can be forgiven for entertaining the erroneous idea that B198 was simply too fat to live. This is the impression being promoted by Wildlife officials, and by "reporters" who never bother to question anything they are told by government officials, and never bother to do their homework.
Oregonian "journalist" Michael Milstein (503-294-7689, email@example.com), for example, had this to say on the subject:
"Meanwhile, a report released Wednesday did identify the likely cause of death for a sea lion trapped by state officials at Bonneville Dam in late April and transferred to Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium in Tacoma. They said the 1,452-pound sea lion, the largest ever captured anywhere, died while sedated for a health screening because it was extraordinarily fat.
'Its extreme weight pressed down on its internal organs while under anesthesia, said Steven Jeffries of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
'It was so obese - so fat - that its head went back into the fat rolls of its body,' Jeffries said.
Nearly five inches of fatty blubber covered the animal's sternum. Its incredible weight can be attributed to the high fat content of the salmon it was eating at Bonneville Dam, Jeffries said.
Sea lions attempt to put on as many pounds as possible before heading to their breeding grounds in the summer, where males spend little time eating because they devote full attention to maintaining their territories, he said."
At first glance, it almost seems as though Milstein has evidence to back his theory up. A "report released Wednesday," and a couple of quotes from a WDFW spokesman both seem to be indicating that the animal was simply so fat that it died.
Unlike Milstein, however, I actually READ the "report released Wednesday." He is referring to a document entitled "Animal Care Committee review of California sea lion B198 mortality during health screening." This report is a careful examination of what really happened to B198. It does not, in fact, say that B198 died "because it was extraordinarily fat," as Milstein asserts. Instead, the report says that the animal died because he was kept under anesthesia for an extraordinarily long time. In other words, its death was the result of human error. By extension, it died as a result of the trapping program -- a conclusion that Steven Jeffries, the WDFW spokesoman quoted in the article, is understandably trying very hard to distract us from. As a journalist, it was Milstein's job to check into what Jeffries was saying. Milstein, like so many other corporate media reporters discussing this issue, failed to do so. Here is a direct quote from the Animal Care Committee report, which Milstein either did not read, or chose to misrepresent:
"The anesthesia records for the 10 animals handled at PDZA indicate that the duration of anesthesia ranged from 15 to 52 minutes. The longest duration of anesthesia was that of B198 (at 52 minutes) which resulted in mortality."
While the report does mention the animal's weight as a contributing factor in the death (because such a large animal should not have been kept anesthetized for so long), it clearly indicates that the cause of death was anesthesia, and not weight. It also says nothing of weight "pressing down on internal organs," or heads "disappearing into fat rolls." That part was poetry added by a WDFW spokesman trying to avoid blame. Why does the corporate media focus on the animal's size, rather than the improper administration of anesthesia? (Could it be that the role of the corporate media in our society is to always justify and extol the government's position on every issue? Say it ain't so.)
The report recommended the following, to prevent further deaths in custody:
"That we limit the duration of gas anesthesia to 30 minutes for animals weighing less than 454 kg (1000 pounds), and that for animals weighing greater than 454 kg (1000 pounds) that the duration of gas anesthesia be limited to 20 minutes."
Again, while weight was a factor, it was not the cause of death. If B198 had been left alone out in the Columbia where he belonged, he would not have died. His weight would not have killed him. On the contrary, it would likely have been an advantage to him, once he reached his summer grounds in the south, as he likely would have in less than a month. Instead, he was trapped, hauled away to Tacoma, interred in a concrete holding cell, strong-armed by 7 people intent on performing medical tests whether he wanted them or not, and then placed under dangerous anesthesia that killed him. According to the report, "The animal was sedated with midazolam at an estimated dose of 0.15 mg/kg, given by intramuscular injection and then anesthetized with isoflurane gas via face mask. During anesthesia it experienced respiratory distress and stopped breathing."
It bears repeating: The animal's weight was only a factor in his death in that he should not have been kept under anesthesia for so long. It was the anesthesia, and not his weight, that caused his death.
Incredibly, he went through all of this so that fishermen can excuse their excessive over-predation on endangered fish in the Columbia. All of the sea lions who have died so far as a result of this program have been sacrificed so that humans can avoid changing their own unsustainable behavior. Mr. Jeffries and the WDFW know this. They simply cannot admit it, without cutting into their bread and butter. (The WDFW and the ODFW are funded through hunting and fishing.) I have already spoken volumes on what is really causing the salmon on the Columbia to move toward extinction, and it is not sea lions. Until we face our own behavior and stop scapegoating sea lions, the salmon are doomed and more sea lions will suffer and die for no reason. We can stop the killing. We need to choose to save sea lions AND salmon, because both are native, natural, important species in the Columbia river ecosystem, and both are worthy of dignity and respect. The way that we can save them both is simply to face the truth: WE are driving the salmon toward extinction. We must redesign the dams, and stop preying on endangered species if we really want to save them. It's that simple.
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