The deadliest force known to man—The Law of Unintended Consequences—has struck again. This time it has led to the deliberate slaughter of sea lions by armed agents of the U.S. Government.
What happened was this: A dam was built in Bonneville, east of Portland, Oregon. As dams will, it created a barrier for both water and anything else that would otherwise traverse the river. This “anything else” included fish, like salmon. And not just any salmon, chinook salmon.
See, chinook salmon are one of the lucky few species protected by a law meant to preserve their breed: The Endangered Species Act. Somebody notices an animal, preferably photogenic, is low in number. If a bureaucracy in Washington D.C. agrees, through a mysterious process, that more of that animal is better than few, then the animal is placed on a list.
Once ensconced, all Heaven and Earth will be moved in an effort to keep that species a going concern. In this case, I mean that literally: the Earth was moved for the chinook. The Bonneville dam was shifted and modified to includ a “ladder”, a sort of stepped, inverse water slide, which the chinook (or other fish) could use to cross the dam.
But just like the water slide at your amusement park, the Bonneville Ladder created long lines of salmon waiting to take their turn.
Which wouldn’t be that bad—salmon do not have busy schedules—except the lingering fish attracted the attention of some sea lions, who, as do humans, find salmon a tasty treat. The feast began.
Now, salmon are stubborn, inflexible creatures. Any other species would see that gathering together in a shallow pool where the only line of escape is a single-file passage is not a brilliant move. They would move on. But the salmon stay; they come back year after year, and a lot of them find themselves in the bellies of sea lions.
Sea lions, however, are smart: they remember where and when the salmon will show. So they show, too. This is to the sea lions’ benefit, obviously. If they don’t have to worry about dinner, then they can concentrate on more important matters, like breeding. Their numbers are increasing.
But the sea lions, our government has decided, are breaking the law! Killing and eating chinook salmon, which are protected by the Endangered Species Act, is equivalent to murder, which is everywhere a crime (except under communism).
Many sea lions have been arrested! According to a San Jose Mercury News report, once the perpetrators are nabbed, they are held for 48 hours.
After they are processed, some of these sea lions are carted off to jail—in the form of aquariums, zoos or “similar” facilities. These sea lions are never heard from again. Some are let go with a warning.
But the killing spree has gotten so bloody—officers estimate 4,489 salmon were killed and eaten last year—that a most wanted list of the worst of the offenders has been created. These hardened, “repeat offenders” are “identified by scars” or by tattoos that they had carved into them when they were last in prison (“numbers that were branded on them by researchers”—a.k.a. marine criminologists).
SWAT teams have been dispatched to where renegade gangs of sea lions gather. These cops use standard riot control methods to disperse the population, such as “dropping bombs that explode under water, and firing rubber bullets and beanbags”.
This is sometimes not enough. Sometimes these confrontations devolve into pitched gun battles between the police and the recalcitrant sea lions. The fights never last long, mostly because the sea lions have not yet learned how to fire back.
These melees have taken their toll. Last year, 11 sea lions were shot and killed when they refused to stop eating salmon. So far this year, there has only been one deadly confrontation, when the sea lion “Whiskers Malone” was shot multiple times after showing his hind flipper to police.
Since spring has just sprung, more salmon will soon be gathering. And that means more arrests and probably more shootings. Police are advising that civilians give the dam a wide birth. This warning does not apply to certain tribal agencies, who will still be allowed to set up gill nets (to catch and eat salmon).
Now for the The Law of Unintended Consequences. Just like salmon, sea lions come in different models. Two of which are California sea lions and Stellar sea lions. California sea lions are a dime a dozen, but the Stellar sea lions, just like the chinook salmon, are blessed with the protection of the Endangered Species Act, and they are just as hungry as their cousins.
What to do? One Endangered Species is eating another Endangered Species. You can’t shoot the sea lions, and you also can’t not let them eat the salmon, but then you can’t let the salmon be eaten.
What a predicament!