Fake orca mission put off until Aug. after engine trouble, capsize

Fake Orca in the water after engine trouble

ASTORIA, Ore. -- After a rough start, a fake killer whale finally took to the water off Astoria, in an effort to scare sea lions. The mission was called off late Thursday, however, after the orca tipped over on its way to the docks, where sea lions continued to lounge.

Port of Astoria Executive Director Jim Knight said the sea lions briefly "got deathly silent" when the orca sailed into view. That was just before it tipped over.

Friday crews began a salvage operation on the whale to address the damage, said Robert Evert with the Port of Astoria. The owner, Terry Buzzard, took the orca home to Bellingham, Wash., and plans to have it ready for another try in August.

Evert noted on Friday, the day after the orca's brief swim, the number of sea lions on the docks in Astoria dropped from roughly 1,200 to 200. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife will continue to monitor the population to see if the orca did indeed scare the sea lions despite its failed swim on the high seas.

The Port of Astoria organized the release of the very large, fiberglass orca into the water Thursday. The whale, named "Island," is actually a registered boat and has a driver. Buzzard also brought a fake baby orca along for the ride, but it never even hit the water.

"Island" was originally built in the 1980s and is now outfitted with a Suzuki eight-horsepower outboard motor and speakers. The whale can spout water and will play recordings of orcas to get the sea lions out of the area.

Buzzard usually enters it in parades to promote his whale watching business. During a Thursday morning press conference, he said he had no idea what would happen when the killer whale hit the water.

Thursday afternoon, the whale hit a snag when its engine flooded, but a replacement motor was eventually found. The next attempt also ended badly when the whale capsized and the driver escaped.

The sea lions have become a big nuisance for Astoria. The Port of Astoria says they are damaging docks and competing for salmon with commercial fisherman.

Officials have tried numerous things to get them to leave, even putting beach balls nearby.

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