Sometime Tuesday evening or early Wednesday morning a malfunction caused a trap door to close on nine California and Steller sea lions hauled out in the open cage trap. When biologists discovered the malfunction Wednesday morning, they found two of the California sea lions dead.
A postmortem exam conducted by an ODFW veterinarian on the site indicated the animals had been crushed, presumably by a much larger Steller sea lion also on the trap.
Rick Hargrave, ODFW spokesperson, said such accidents do happen in wildlife management operations.
“This was an unfortunate accident. However, any time you handle wild animals there are risks that an animal can be accidentally hurt or killed,” he said. He added that ODFW has successfully trapped and released thousands of sea lions in Astoria and at Bonneville Dam over the past decade and a half.
An incident report has been submitted to NOAA Fisheries and the states temporarily suspended trapping operations to allow for consultation with NOAA and the project’s Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee. Since 2008, the states of Oregon and Washington have operated a California sea lion trapping and removal program at Bonneville Dam in order to protect threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead populations in the river. The program operates under authority granted by the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
Neither animal accidentally killed in the trap malfunction had yet been added to the list of California sea lions approved for lethal removal under the states’ trapping and removal program.
Trapping operations at the dam will resume next week, after NOAA and the states have reviewed operating procedures at the dam to reduce the chance of future accidents.