June 5, 2015 / 12:30 AM / 4 years ago

Oregon town enlists fake whale to scare sea lions off docks

PORTLAND, Ore., June 4 (Reuters) - Officials in a small Oregon fishing village have deployed a giant, motorized fake orca whale in their latest attempt to scare off hundreds of sea lions who have made the local port’s docks their new home.

City leaders in Astoria, Oregon, say they are hoping the 32-foot-long faux whale will succeed where such tactics as electric mats and brightly colored beach balls placed outside the docks have failed.

“It really is a sign of how desperate the measures are that we’re taking to try and solve this problem,” Port of Astoria Executive Director Jim Knight said. “We simply don’t have the financial resources to build barriers. We have no choice but to look for very creative and low cost solutions.”

The sea lions usually show up in Astoria, a town of some 10,000 people on the Columbia River about 70 miles (113 km) northwest of Portland, in the winter and then leave as the weather warms.

But this year they came in February and didn’t leave, officials say, and hundreds now sleep and sit on the docks around the clock, eating fish that sustains the local community.

Researchers believe warming water in the Pacific Ocean has sent the sea lions that have not previously been known to reside on the Columbia River, north in search of food, Knight said.

“There are thousands of jobs that are at risk in our community,” Knight said of the threat to the commercial and sport fishing operations if the sea lions stick around or increase in numbers, adding that they also create a lot of noise and foul the water.

“They basically create 10 to 30 pounds (4.5 to 13.5 kg) of poop a day,” Knight said.

Already stocked with a life-sized orca whale that is a licensed boat in the state of Washington, the Island Mariner, a whale watching cruise company from Bellingham Washington, drove its fake promotional whale to Astoria.

But the operation hit a snag early on Thursday when the artificial whale’s motor flooded, Knight said.

As of Thursday afternoon the device, which emits whale songs, was being fixed and officials were planning a sneak attack on the sea lions on Thursday night.

The plan is to play the orca’s song that signals to other whales it has killed a sea lion and it’s dinner time. The hope is that it scares the sea lions and prompts them to leave, forever, he said. (Reporting by Shelby Sebens in Portland, Oregon; Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Sandra Maler)

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