Killing sea lions

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Posted by on March 24, 2005 at 08:58:55:

In the apparent emptiness of the Bering Sea the sea lions were huge and unlikely animals. They lolled like mammal kings on a remote rock, and we were alone with them.

In 1977, when I was a deckhand on the Calista Sea, Carl's Commercial in Dutch Harbor sold Soldier of Fortune magazine, which advertised T-shirts that said "Kill 'em all, and let God sort 'em out later." I'd thought that was a great line, horrible in its implications for the victims perhaps, but bystanders or perpetrators could appreciate it, find it basically hilarious, and like all punchlines, absolutely true at its center. With so many Vietnam vets in a fleet that counted success by how many thousands of crabs could be hoisted from the sea and sold to people who boiled them alive, the analogy of crab counts to body counts was not lost on anyone.

That year, our regular cook, Laurie, took a vacation in Hawaii. We waved goodbye as she got in a cab on the dock in Dutch Harbor, headed to the airport. An hour later we watched from the back deck of the boat as the red-blue-and-white Reeve Aleutian Airways prop plane flashed over us and banked out over the bay, past Akun Head, for the four-hour trip to Anchorage. A friend of Laurie's flew in the next day from Kodiak. Kathy was in her late thirties, older that any of us. She had a graying hippie charm. We had a new cook.

A week later, after we'd been pulling gear for a few days, Gary, the skipper, decided to let the pots soak for a day, giving us an idle afternoon. We drove over to Amak Island, a barren chunk of granite ten miles off the north side of Unimak Island.

The entire island looked like it would have fit inside a football field. It was usually nothing more than a blip on the radar screen. But this morning we could see the weathered rock rising a hundred feet out of the water and a slight breeze rippling the otherwise calm sea. The boat rolled gently; a slow foaming surge worked up and down the barnacled gray rock. Above the surge several hundred Steller sea lions lay in the bright March sunlight. Most of them were sleeping; a few raised their heads to stare at us. A couple of bulls bared their teeth and bellowed. As we idled downwind the stench became intense, like the monkey house at a zoo, but worse, much worse, the smell of urine and feces almost visible in the clear air.

see the link below for the rest of the story and pictures

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