Sea lions get a rude awakening as three-month hazing begins

OREGON CITY, Ore. - Sea lions hoping to feast on some salmon below Willamette Falls are getting a loud reminder that they are not wanted.

On Monday, the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife (ODFW) began a three-month hazing project to try to get California sea lions out of the area so winter steelhead and spring chinook have a fighting chance of surviving.

This is the third year of the project, although last year it was suspended due to lack of funding.

For the next three months - and seven days a week - ODFW crews will head out on the Willamette River between Willamette Falls and the Interstate 205 bridge to try to scare off the sea lions.

They will be using two methods - one that makes a loud noise above the water and another that sets off an explosion under water.

"One is a cracker shell," said ODFW spokesman Rick Swart. "It's a projectile that comes out of the end of a 12-gauge shotgun and blows up in mid-air like a firework. It makes a loud noise. The other is what we refer to as a 'seal bomb.' It's like the M80s that we used as kids as firecrackers. They're waterproof pyrotechnics that you light with a torch and toss in the water. It sinks a foot or two and then goes off."

Those who live, work or drive nearby will hear loud booms for the next three months. In the past, it's been an annoyance for some folks.

"Pets get excited and some people found it a little disruptive," said Swart. "We're sensitive to that. That's why the scope of the project is limited to just that area between the falls and the 205 bridge. It's kind of an industrialized area anyway."

"But there's no escaping the fact that we're out there making loud noises," he added. "We try to keep that to a minimum but it's going to happen."

As far as whether all of this is effective, Swart said it's too early to tell.

"That's what we're trying to find out," he said. "We think it's probably helping out somewhat. We're not moving them off the river or out of the Willamette and into the Columbia so they are probably still getting fish. But the idea is to get them away from the ladders where the fish congregate before going upstream to give them a fair chance at making it across the falls."