Solo Still Mourning the Dead Out on the Columbia
This is the monitoring report from the banks of the Columbia for today. Solo remains at his lonely post, mourning the sea lions who are gone.
It was beautiful up on the Columbia today. The sun lit the edges of huge, dramatic clouds, and the jagged mountains above the dam were laced with snow. Down on the water, both Steller and California sea lions drifted through the jade green water, lazily blowing little puffs of steam out into the crisp morning air. As I sat there on the grassy bank above the water, with three other sea lion defenders, it was almost possible, at least momentarily, to forget the pain we had felt here on this very spot, only a few days before, as we watched two sea lions being hauled away to die.
But just across the water, almost hidden against the dark rocks beneath the wall along Cascades Island, we could see the dark form of a sea lion, silhouetted against gray concrete. This is Solo. We were sobered by the sound of his wailing cries. Growing less insistent now, he seems to be giving up. He went for some time without uttering a sound. But he never left the place of his lonely vigil, all through the day. Now and then, we would hear him and be reminded of what was lost here. He has refused to leave this spot for two days and nights, not even to eat. He watches the traps and calls out for the sea lions who will never return. Every now and then, Solo's song broke hauntingly through the bright day, a reminder of the sorrow that still hangs in the air here.
One of the traps is gone today. Early this morning, people in government boats came out and tried again to fix the mangled door. They were unable to fix it, and so they hauled it away, around the back of the island, out of public view. Its presence here has raised some questions: What happened in that trap that night? Why does it look like a life or death struggle took place here? What happened to the two Steller sea lions who were reportedly trapped? We never saw them. Were they injured in the struggle?
I still can't believe the strange violence of this war zone. Truly, this is the front line of the War against Nature. The sound of guns and explosions rock the air here all day long from the dam fortress, and from the boats of hazers. Men chase down sea lions and shoot rubber bullets and explosives at them to make room for more nets, and more poles, and more hooks and more death. High tech but often fallible traps squat against the artificial concrete cliff faces. Men creep around in the dark of night, sneaking up on sleeping animals to ensnare them while they dream. Buzzing wires stretch across the landscape where the silent mountains reach down to the broken gorge. And a giant, concrete mega dam stops up the waters of the Columbia herself.
It was a study in irony, sitting there on that bank: picking out the small, dark forms of sea lions rolling in the waves, against such a vast, great background of human-made havoc as this dam, with its gnashing turbines and its fortress-like concrete and its world-shattering indifference. The dam, of course, kills thousands upon thousands of salmon out of every run. Many times more than are eaten by sea lions. And yet, here along the face of this concrete mega-dam, sea lions are being put to death for eating. Some people claim it's all right to kill the sea lions, because there are others to take their place. "It's not like they're going to go extinct," I was once informed by an ODFW agent sitting in his office, far from the front. But these are not just numbers, they are living beings. And every one who is killed loved his life as much as we love ours. These lives matter. Every one of them. And that goes especially for the two lives lost here only two days ago, breaking Solo's heart.
It wasn't only the dam that smacked of irony today. Indeed, the good weather brought out hundreds of fishermen. They lined the banks on both the Oregon and the Washington side, even fishing from right before the tailrace. As we walked among them, dodging beneath fishing lines and stepping over nets, we saw many large, endangered, spring Chinook salmon lying dead on the rocks, in canvas wraps, in shallow pools of water, and in peoples' ice chests. The water along the shore was clouded with fish guts, and the smell of newly dead fish was strong in the air. We watched poles bring reeled in and cast out all day long, right there below the dam. Said one fisherman, "You have to reel em in fast, or the seals get em." Apparently, these guys were all too fast for the "seals" today, because we saw many more dead fish being bandied about by the humans than by the sea lions.
When I left the dam today, no sea lions were in the traps. Solo was still holding out among the rocks. And fishermen were still snatching salmon from the waters all up and down the bank. In fact, the whole way down from Bonneville, on nearly a hundred miles of river, I saw fishermen. When I got down to the I-5 bridge, there were so many fishing vessels that one could have stepped across the Columbia on their bows. It seems like a very high price to pay for this; dozens of dead sea lions and Solo's broken heart... just so these guys can keep on fishing the Columbia for a little while longer.
address: Sea Wolf One, Banks of the Columbia River, Republic of Cascadia
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