ASTORIA, Ore. (KOIN) — Efforts to scare sea lions away from the Port of Astoria using a life-sized orca replica were delayed Thursday when the fake whale’s engine failed to start.
The day kicked off with a news conference, as Port of Astoria executives acknowledged the gravity of the area’s sea lion problem. As sea lion populations surge at the mouth of the Columbia River, the fishing economy is in danger.
“It could very well wipe out the fish in our rivers, the jobs that have been created to process and feed our nation and export our most valuable commodities throughout the world,” Port of Astoria Executive Director Jim Knight said. “Now we are worried that these things are in danger.”
Knight said the use of ‘Fake Willy’, a 30-foot long fiberglass orca replica, is an act of desperation as officials work to scare sea lions away from the port.
A veterinarian at the Port of Astoria said sea lions are one of the top marine disease vectors, some of which are transferable to humans.
At 12:40 p.m. Knight told KOIN 6 News ‘Fake Willy’ was floating, but soon developed engine trouble. As winds picked up, concerns grew for the safety of the man who would steer the whale from inside.
“We’re hoping this will better simulate what goes on at this point and we’ll have a more accurate and more realistic response to this,” Knight said.
There is still a great deal of hope that using a replica of the sea lion’s natural predator will successfully curb the problem. A new inboard orca engine and calmer winds could provide the port with the solution they’re looking for.
Once it’s in motion, a sea plane will be overhead to see where sea lions might go if they’re scared off the port dock. John Wifler with Island Mariner Cruises will drive the orca and will look out just ahead of dorsal fin.
The whale was originally built in the 1980s and is now outfitted with a Suzuki eight-horsepower outboard motor and speakers. The whale will play recordings of orcas out hunting while in the water.
Sea lions are still federally protected, so the port can’t shoot or harass them.
According to port officials, the sea lions are causing between $100,000 – $150,000 in damages every year.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.