A sea lion trapped Monday in the Columbia River west of Bonneville Dam died Tuesday at Tacoma’s Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium, state officials said.
The male California sea lion known as B-198 failed to resume normal breathing after a health screening that required anesthesia.
Steve Jeffries, a state Department of Fish and Wildlife marine mammal biologist, said it’s rare for sea lions to die this way, but that sedation is a routine part of the procedure.
“We’re all kind of bummed out about it because it was a beautiful animal, but it’s a risk when we handle these animals. The vets there are trained professionals. It’s unfortunate that it happened, but it did,” he said.
B-198 was among seven California sea lions removed from the river since Thursday by Oregon and Washington wildlife officials. Known as “a repeat offender,” B-198 preyed upon spring runs of chinook salmon at the dam for at least three years, Jeffries said.
The death prompted the Humane Society of the United States, which opposes relocation of nuisance sea lions, to demand that captures stop until the death is investigated.
In Seattle, Inga Gibson, the organization’s state director, said leaders of her group were saddened by the news. Trapping and relocation of sea lions is unnecessary because there are other ways to alleviate the loss of salmon, including dam removal and fishing quotas, she said. The Humane Society’s lawsuit on the sea lion capture continues at a May 9 hearing in California.
To find out why B-198 died, experts at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s marine mammal laboratory in Seattle did a necropsy late Tuesday afternoon. The results weren’t available Tuesday evening.
Jeffries speculated that the animal’s weight – 1,454 pounds – might have been a factor.
“It was extremely obese – very, very large. Its sheer size and mass may have contributed to its death,” he said.
At the time of its death, the sea lion was attended by at least five people, Jeffries said. Besides Jeffries, they were a biologist who is also a veterinary technician, an Oregon state Department of Fish and Wildlife veterinarian, a NOAA veterinarian and another biologist, he said.
According to a news release issued by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, employees of Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium were not involved.
Susan Gordon: 253-597-8756