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Oregon town hopes replica orca scares resident sea lions

Researchers aren't entirely sure what is responsible for the influx of sea lions.

By Brooks Hays
Oregon town hopes replica orca scares resident sea lions
Sea lions congregate on the docks of Port of Astoria, Oregon. Photo by Theresa Tilson/Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife

PORT OF ASTORIA, Ore., May 26 (UPI) -- Oregon's coast is experiencing a massive influx of sea lions. In Port of Astoria, the sea mammals have taken over the local docks, keeping boaters from using their slips.

But there is a potential solution to the north. Terry Buzzard, owner of Island Marine Cruises in Bellingham, Washington, has offered to lend the town his life-size orca replica.

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Buzzard normally uses the mock orca to promote his business, wheeling it through town during parades. But he figures the model could double as a scarecrow of sorts.

"I don't have any idea in the world if it'll work or even should work. It's just kind of a fun, crazy thing to do," he told local NBC affiliate, KING 5 News. "If it doesn't look like an orca whale and they call our bluff, then I guess they'll sit there and thumb their noses at us."

The mock orca will ship south in a few weeks.

Researchers aren't entirely sure what is responsible for the influx of sea lions, but their best guess is that warmer waters are pushing California populations northward. Others say a lack of food further offshore and the growing numbers of smelt headed upstream are attracting the droves of sea lions to the coast.

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Either way, their sizable presence now has communities along the Oregon coast debating what to do about the problem.

"They've broken gangways to the docks," Janice Burk, Port of Astoria Marina Manager, told Oregon Live -- speaking about sea lions, not humans.

"They have destroyed power underwater," she said. "They've destroyed waterlines. They make a huge mess on the docks, including on the boats next to them. Our customers are unhappy. It's just the noise and smell."

Some worry the mammals' overabundance is a threat to smelt and salmon runs up the Columbia River. Wildlife management officials in Oregon and Washington have the authority to kill sea lions in order to protect steelhead and salmon, but it remains uncertain whether they'll exercise that authority.

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