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Sea Shepherd Activists Speak Out Against Branding of Sea Lions

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Mar 26, 2013 03:42 PM EDT
sea lions
Rescued California sea lion pups are seen at the Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach, California, March 13, 2013. The center has been overwhelmed by the number of severely malnourished and dehydrated pups coming to shore along the Orange County coastline. (Photo : REUTERS/Mike Blake)

Sea Shepherd activists are speaking out against a long-held practice of branding California sea lions employed to track their movements and feeding habits.

The process is conducted by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and has resulted in the branding of 1,400 sea lions since it started in 1997, according to Seattle Times.

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Ashley Lenton is a campaign leader for the Sea Shepherds who saw the process.

"It was horrific to watch," she said.

Jessica Sail is the spokeswoman for the department and refutes the assertion that the sea lions suffered greatly at their hands. While human branding is extremely painful, sea lions have much thicker skin and fewer nerve endings, she pointed out.

"It was a routine operation that went as planned" she said.

Sea lions are both monitored and captured in an effort to help preserve the endangered and threatened salmon they feed on. Last year, the department euthanized 10 sea lions and plans are in motion to resume similar activities this spring.

Lenton, however, believes the sea lions aren't the ones to blame.

"We believe the animals are being scapegoated," she told the Seattle Times.

Oregon is not the only one that targets sea lions. In March 2008, fish and wildlife agencies in Washington, Oregon and Idaho all received federal authorization to kill sea lions preying on salmon and steelhead below the Bonneville Dam

According to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, 54 were removed by 2012, 11 of which went to zoos and aquariums. As a result, the department reports that the number of salmon consumed by sea lions has declined noticeably.

According to the Marine Mammal center, the population of California sea lions is growing steadily with current numbers estimated at 238,000.

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