Californian yachties driven barking mad by sea lion siege

The boat-owners have petitioned the Harbour Commission, and the Harbour Commission has petitioned the City Council, but to no avail; the animals have been under special government protection since they came close to extinction 30 years ago, and nobody is allowed to touch them.

So a state of siege has been established. Many yacht-owners have tried to block the sundecks of their boats with chairs and kayaks. Others have temporarily moved their boats to other harbours. A few of the more enterprising residents have equipped themselves with squirt guns (for the sea lions) and sleeping pills (for themselves). And they have come up with many cunning plans: attacking the beasts with rubber bullets or firecrackers, blasting high-pitched sounds from underwater speakers, building a fake killer whale - an underwater scarecrow if you will - or employing a harbour hand to go around the boats and bang them with a stick.

The problem is that these ploys do not work. One attempt to deport some of the animals to an island off Santa Barbara, more than 100 miles to the north, ended in failure: the beasts were back within a week.

An estimated 400,000 sea lions frolic along the Pacific coast of the US, barely a generation after fears for their extinction led to the protective law. In Seattle nine years ago, three sea lions threatening the steelhead trout which move down the city's "fish ladder" - an ingenious device to help the fish swim upstream - were actually sentenced to death. A national outcry over this ostensible act of brutality led to a reprieve, cheered on by then-Vice President Al Gore: the three animals were adopted by SeaWorld in Orlando.

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