Petersburg Pilot -

 
 

Operation Sea Lion disperses sea lions, for now

 

Kyle Clayton / Petersburg Pilot

The borough's war against aggressive marine wildlife dubbed "Operation Sea Lion" has been successful in keeping the animals off the floats and away from people. It's latest weapon: a solar powered electric fence and a human manikin set up at the airplane float. "The first night it was set up we realized the animals had sensed something and since then they must have found other places to go because they're not hauling out there anymore," Harbormaster Glo Wollen said. That was a month ago. Since then, harbor staff set up another manikin at the fish cleaning station but without the electric fence. The idea is that the sea lions will by now have associated the electric shock with a human. "We just tried a little experiment in hopes they would associate something with the sensation," Wollen said. "You might start seeing manikins all over the place, little scarecrows." Borough Manager Steve Giesbrecht said the tactic is working so far but it remains to be seen whether or not it's a permanent solution. "The hope is they will decide that our harbor isn't a pleasant place to be," Giesbrecht said. "Only time will tell on that one. I give Glo a lot of kudos on being inventive here." Wollen's been battling the sea lions, two aggressive animals in particular, for the past year. Harbor staff received reports of the animals getting close and hissing and following kayakers for long distances. Last fall, one of the animals approached two fishermen at the fish cleaning station and snatched their halibut off the gaff hook. Wollen's had to get creative because she's required to operate within the confines of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which restricts anyone from harming the animals. Jon Kurland, assistant regional administrator for protected resources with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), visited with borough officials and concerned citizens last fall. "If somebody comes upon a sea lion and pokes it with a broom that's not acceptable," Kurland said. "They can't harass the animal on its own if there's not an urgent safety reason for doing so." Government officials such as Wollen, however, can take actions that are not likely to cause injury to animals in an attempt to thwart their presence. "Historically we've dealt with these issues a little differently," Wollen said. "We're trying to do this within the restraints of the law." Kurland said a variety of techniques such as exclusion fences, sprinkler systems and electric fences have been used successfully in other communities. He said while sea lions are not typically aggressive animals they are predators. "Like any wild animals, if they're getting food from humans they may become increasingly bold and that's when problems occur," Kurland said. The borough assembly passed an ordinance last summer banning fish waste disposal in the harbors as part of an attempt to not attract the sea lions. Harbor staff also used noisemakers to scare the animals off-an expensive and time consuming method that isn't sustainable, Giesbrecht said. Wollen said harbor staff will likely need to take the manikins down soon as harbor traffic is expected to increase. "I don't know what we'll do next if this doesn't work," Wollen said.

The borough's war against aggressive marine wildlife dubbed "Operation Sea Lion" has been successful in keeping the animals off the floats and away from people.

It's latest weapon: a solar powered electric fence and a human manikin set up at the a...



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