SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - California sea lions won clemency in the 9th Circuit, after animal-rights groups fought to stop Washington, Oregon and Idaho from killing up to 85 sea lions that prey on endangered spring Chinook salmon below the Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River.
The National Marine Fisheries Service authorized the three states to "lethally remove individual pinnipeds," or four-flippered mammals, on an annual basis. The states scheduled this year's execution for April 24.
The appellate court granted an emergency stay of execution to the Humane Society of the United States, the Wild Fish Conservancy and two individuals on the grounds that the approved killings would be irreparable, and the 2008 salmon run is expected to be much larger than usual, with an estimated 269,000 fish.
If the sea lions live, they might eat between 212 to 2,094 spring Chinook salmon - or about 0.3 to 4.4 percent of the protected fish species.
After considering these competing interests, the court found that "the balance of harms tips in favor of the appellants."
The court did not, however, stop the states from transferring up to 19 California sea lions to zoos and aquariums.
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