Stop Seal and Sea Lion Culling

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THE PROBLEM:

The Senate passed a bill (S.3119) which could allow as many as 1,000 seals and sea lions (pinnipeds) to be killed at the mouth of the Columbia River. We must stop this bill before the House and President Trump allows it to become a law. On Friday, the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission is having a meeting to discuss the possibility of a cull in throughout the Salish Sea as well. We will present them with this petition Friday.

10 sea lions have already been shot in the Puget Sound since September as these talks gain momentum.

Why is this happening?

Many salmon runs are endangered in the Pacific Northwest because of human impact. Dams prevent salmon from returning to the river and reproduce. Overcrowded fish farms spread lethal viruses to salmon. Recreational and commercial fishing industry overfish salmon every year. Climate change and ocean acidification are making the ocean unlivable for salmon.

There is a misconception that the best way to restore wild salmon is to kill thousands of seal and sea lions who prey on wild salmon. It’s possible that this approach is just a scapegoat or a “band-aid fix” to address the declining salmon and Southern Resident orca populations. Here's why killing pinnipeds won't restore wild salmon stocks:

Why We Shouldn’t Cull Seals and Sea Lions:

SCIENTIFIC REASONING

  • Little is known about the effect of removing pinnipeds because they eat such a diverse diet. A number of studies have been done but with limited data accuracy. All studies show diet variability - we know that pinnipeds eat many different species (over 60 other fish and cephalopod species including octopus, squid, herring, salmon, gadoids) and that their diet varies throughout the year. See this UBC source, this species profile source and this this article.
  • Seal and sea lion culling, and the culling of other species, have historically been ineffective. Removing some of the Salish Sea’s population of seals and sea lions could have unexpected consequences for the rest of the ecosystem (see this article). For example, the harbour seal culls that happened in Alaska resulted in no salmon stock positive effects, rather it negatively affected the razor clam fishery (since harbour seal diets are only 5% salmon and are actually heavy on starry flounder - a major clam consumer) (see this species profile source). Also, compare this proposal to the proposal to cull seals in Newfoundland and Labrador (see this article). Also, compare this situation to the removal and reintroduction of wolves in Yellowstone National Park (see this article). Furthermore, many species have been culled to human benefit throughout history. In fact, it was once believed that culling killer whales would protect salmon populations.  It was “common practice for fishermen to shoot killer whales.” (see this article).
  • “[...] while culls can significantly reduce predator density, they most often are enacted without measurable objectives in place. Predator-prey interactions are often complex, so culls can have unintended consequences. It is unknown what effects the culling programs in British Columbia and Washington State had on fisheries and the ecosystem at large (Bowen and Lidgard 2013).” (quote pulled from this source).
  • Seal and sea lions actually can salmon populations by also feeding on some salmon predators like hake, a fish that eats more salmon than pinnipeds do. (i.e. seals eat hake and hake eat salmon - less seals could mean more hake and ultimately still less salmon).
  • Seals and sea lions are also the main food source for the transient orcas. How a pinniped cull would affect transient killer whales is unknown (why put a healthy killer whale population at risk by reducing its prey base?). Furthermore, it’s the transient’s role to keep the seal and sea lions populations at a healthy level. Early work estimates their consumption at 1,090 seals/year and may already be reducing harbor seal populations in some parts of the Salish Sea. See this source and this source.
  • Salmon populations are being adversely affected by countless other factors, and pinnipeds are not the main factor. More likely, the decline is due to larger issues that have been ongoing for decades including habitat loss (from trail ponds, mines and run-off), hatcheries, hydropower (damming rivers), sea lice and disease spread from net pen salmon farming, and overfishing. 

There is simply insufficient data to justify the culling of pinnipeds or even to know if doing so has any effect.

ETHICAL/ANIMAL WELFARE REASONING

  • Seals and sea lions are sentient mammals who can feel pain, distress, fear and other forms of suffering. They are also known to have a playful, curious demeanor - often called “underwater puppies”. See this source.
  • Sea lions have a brain size comparable to that of a chimpanzee. They also have folded brains, which indicates that they may of emotional intelligence similar to that of cetaceans (such as dolphins). In fact, one California Sea Lion is known to have passed an IQ test many people couldn’t. See this article.
  • Our actions are responsible for some significant pinniped behavioural changes. For example, we've been training them for generations now to associate us and our practices with food. It’s possible that all of these “training sessions” (every time a fisherman throws bycatch overboard or cleans their salmon in a harbour) encourage sea lions to enter harbours, hang out on docks, and follow boats. Most historical haulouts and rookeries are near rockfish and octopus habitat (which could have made up a larger portion of their diet historically). We have trained them to diverge from these areas in favour of what would naturally be some pretty poor foraging space.
  • At the mouth of the Columbia River, the presence of the man-made Bonneville dam trap and concentrate salmon. The pinnipeds gather at the mouth to take advantage of this unnatural phenomena. Ethically speaking, the proposed culling of up thousands of pinnipeds here is comparable to laying out catnip and killing the cats that approach it.
  • The Humane Society has attempted to use lawsuits to block efforts to cull the predatory sea lion population on the Columbia River, saying that natural predator-prey behavior is being blamed for human-caused salmon mortality. See this source.
  • Legalizing the killing of seals and seal lions is a violent, unnecessary, and an ecologically disruptive decision. Pinnipeds, like all species, play an important, balanced role in the Salish Sea ecosystem.

THE SOLUTION

The science is there, the ethical reasoning is there. Killing seals and sea lions won't help wild salmon or orcas. We need to look at what we can change: stop consuming salmon, reducing fisheries’ salmon uptake, increasing salmon habitat, and breaching the four lower Snake River dams (which will bring back 2 million salmon per dam breached). A major dam breach could be done in the next year (see this petition).

What you can do right now:

  1. Sign this petition, it will be brought to the meeting on Friday
  2. Submit a public comment online - Send an email (or letter) to the commission - you can use their  easy to use form or you can send them an email directly at commission@dfw.wa.gov
  3. Attend the meeting and provide public comment. You are permitted 2 minutes and here are details on how to sign up and provide comment.
  4. Share this petition with your friends and family on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or via email!

We need you, all of you, to show the House and president that this law won't pass with our consent. If enough of us sign this petition, we can save the seals and sea lions.


OUR STORY:

We are a group of conservationists and filmmakers making a documentary series out to save the critically endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales, Coextinction. These orcas feed off of wild salmon and are endangered because of the depleting populations. Killing seals and sea lions isn't the solution to save salmon and the orcas. We stand strong with other organizations and individuals to protect the Salish Sea.

#WeCoexist
#WeAreTheOrca