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Fake orca scares off sea lions

PORTLAND — A fake life-sized orca that spouts water and plays recordings of its real-life counterparts is being deployed to scare off hundreds of sea lions crowding docks off the Oregon Coast, but it ran into a snag its first day on the job.

The orca was brought over land from Bellingham, Washington, on Thursday, but as soon as it hit the water at Astoria, its engine flooded, KGW-TV reported. Officials in Astoria say they have found a replacement motor and the fake orca will make it to the water near the docks within several hours.

The fake orca, named "Island," belongs to a whale watching business and was originally built in the 1980s. It's outfitted with a Suzuki eight-horsepower outboard motor and speakers.

The replica orca is actually a boat and will be driven around in the waters near Astoria, free of charge to the port.  It will also tow a smaller, 7-foot-long orca behind it.

Sea lions have become a nuisance to the city and commercial fishermen because they damage docks, prevent boaters from using them and eat too many salmon.

In recent weeks, the Port of Astoria tried creative ways to keep the animals away, including installing beach balls, colorful tape, chicken wire and electrified mats — but were not successful.

The sea lion population has increased dramatically in recent decades. The animals are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, but the law includes provisions allowing for deterrence of the sea lions to protect private property.

Officials said it's not known if the sea lions will actually be scared of the phony killer whale. Wildlife official say sea lions are smart and might figure out it's a fake.

"It's a theory, we don't know how it will work. An orca is a natural predator to a sea lion. But we don't know if they will totally ignore it, or swim for their lives," said Port of Astoria Executive Director Jim Knight.

Knight said one of the sounds the fake orca will emit is a "call to dinner" — usually emitted by the killer whales in the wild after they kill a sea lion or seal. 

A fiberglass orca whale is shown Thursday on the docks of Pier Two in Astoria. The orca, converted from a parade float into a boat and brought from Bellingham, Wash., by Island Mariner whale watching cruises, will be used by the Port of Astoria in an attempt to scare sea lions and seals out of the East End Mooring Basin. AP PHOTO.
Seals and California sea lions are seen Thursday on the docks of the East End Mooring Basin in Astoria. AP PHOTO.