IDA Sues State Agency to Save Willy the Sea Lion
Last week, In Defense of Animals (IDA) took the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) to court seeking a temporary restraining order to prevent Willy, a California Sea Lion branded C657, from being killed. Advocates have named this sea lion after the famed Killer Whale, Keiko, from the movie "Free Willy." The state agency has the wrong sea lion without authorization, which is just one more mistake in a growing pattern of government blunders since the states of Washington and Oregon received special federal permission to kill up to 85 sea lions per year who are seen eating salmon.
The authority to kill these intelligent, gregarious, and friendly marine mammals comes from Section 120 of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, a narrow exception which allows for killing individually identified sea lions who are observed eating salmon after first proving that the sea lion predation is having a "significant impact" on endangered salmon. IDA maintains that neither of these requirements have been met, and this lawsuit was specific to the question of whether the state can accurately identify individual sea lions as specifically required under the law for these congressionally protected pinnipeds.
The new case brought in Judge Jean Kerr Maurer's Circuit Courtroom, provided evidence that Willy was not on the state's authorized "hit list" of sea lions that had been seen eating salmon on the Columbia River, and should not be targeted for execution or life in permanent captivity. IDA's evidence was the government's own monitoring documents, and brought into question not just the mistaken identity of Willy, but casts serious doubt on the state's ability to correctly identify any of these protected sea lions. ODFW and the Army Core of Engineers claim to be able to identify 250 individual sea lions from physical characteristics while viewing them from hundreds of feet away while they are swimming and feeding in the river.
Since March 1st when the program started, eleven sea lions have been trapped and seven have been killed. The tragic irony is that while sea lions are being killed just for eating fish, fishing quotas for humans have been raised for at least three years in a row. The sea lions estimated take of the Spring salmon run is consistently only 4% or less, however, deemed a "significant impact" by the National Marine Fisheries Service. This same agency also set the quotas for sport, commercial and tribal fishing, which totals 13% this year, and, incredibly, is considered an "insignificant impact."
Willy the sea lion was actually named as a plaintiff along with IDA, and their attorney, Lanny Sinkin had this to say about the case, "In the face of a rather cavalier attitude on the part of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, this case refocused attention on the need to protect individual animals, and the need for such animals to have their own day in court."
IDA was disappointed that the judge ruled in favor of the state and the complaint will not move forward. What this means is that Willy, who we still believe to be wrongly accused, will either be killed or transferred to a zoo in Texas. It's tragic that the ODFW can continue to operate with no accountability and watchdog organizations like IDA cannot convince the court to check them on their incompetence.
Even though we lost in court, Willy's plight did not go unnoticed. All the local TV media covered the court hearing, and now the community now knows of at least one of these sea lions by a name instead of a number. To view some of the day's coverage, check out the links below.
IDA will continue to do everything we can to stop the killing of the sea lions and focus the attention back on the real issues that face salmon recovery. This week IDA is chartering a bus and will host a large rally on the Capitol steps in Salem and at the ODFW state headquarters.
What you can do:
If you live in Oregon or Washington please contact your Governor and State Legislators and tell them that you do not want your taxes to fund this misguided killing of wildlife. Each state is contributing $200,000 per year for five years to fund this sea lion killing project. With budgets in crisis, this a perfect place to cut, and would save collectively two million dollars.
If you don't know how to get in touch with your legislators, goto:
To reach the governor's of Washington and Oregon, goto:
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