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Sea Lions Photo Gallery: A West Coast Eco-War
A fleet of doe-eyed whip smart sea lions is laying siege to the Pacific Northwest, wreaking havoc on surf breaks, fishing lines, and endangering salmon runs. Photograph by Ami Vitale

Photo: Sea lion's head in the water


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Photo: Ami VitaleContributing Photographer Ami Vitale was our natural choice to cozy up to the ill-mannered sea lions featured in "Is This the Face of a Killer?" (in the December 2007/January 2008 issue, on newsstands now). She's endured encounters with angry megafauna for the magazine before: In India she and Contributing Editor Paul Kvinta dodged charging elephants; in Tanzania they stalked man-eating lions.

Map: Oregon

For this month's feature article, Vitale and Kvinta investigated an invasion of salmon-gobbling sea lions on Oregon's Columbia River. The problem? Up and down the West Coast, sea lion populations have boomed, swelling from barely 50,000 in the 1970s to 300,000 today. Now two iconic American species are pitted against each other, with one that no longer needs protection laying waste to one that most certainly does. Meanwhile, boat owners, harbor masters, fishermen, and beachgoers are pulling their hair out over an animal that is fearlessly expanding its range. 

While infiltrating Oregon's most contentious sea-lion hot spots, Vitale wasn't daunted by the pinnipeds' steel-trap jaws, teeth designed for tearing flesh, or highly developed intellect. "They had really, really bad breath," she says. "If you stood your ground, they wouldn't hurt you—they'd just bark a whole lot."

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Read the feature story "Is This the Face of a Killer?" in the December 2007/January 2008 issue, on newsstands now.

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