I recently saw this crazy story about a sea lion that had swam miles up the Cowlitz River, got out and wandered another mile or so, and had to be corralled and transported with all the king’s horses and men from Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to get back to where she belonged. I presume she was hunting for salmon up there. It got me wondering: do these guys ever come up the Rogue, and have they ever gotten marooned in such a fashion?
These powerful pinnipeds wander into freshwater runs, including the mouth of the Rogue River, in search of more than salmon, according to Susan Riemer, a biologist with ODFW’s marine mammal program.
Seals and sea lions will go for “pretty much whatever’s available,” Riemer said, ranging from perch, herring and smelt to lamprey — and yes, salmon.
“When it’s here and in abundance, they’re going to eat whatever they can to survive,” she said.
Roving sea lions, most of which are of the California and Steller varieties, don’t make it nearly as far up the Rogue River as they do up the Columbia. Sea lions sometimes travel all the way up to Bonneville Dam, which is 146 miles from the ocean, Riemer said.
In the Rogue, they can make it about 10 miles, tops.
“The river gets pretty narrow and shallow, and they’re not going to traverse rocks and get out and go around things to get farther up the river,” Riemer said.
She’s never heard of a sea lion behaving the way the Steller did in the Cowlitz. They’re usually timid, she said.
In the Rogue, a sea lion hazing program is in place in the summer and fall to protect fishermen, whose catches on the line are frequently stolen by the hungry critters. In most cases, a loud noise caused by a firecracker is usually enough to deter the pilfering.