One Year: 1986

Season 3: Episode 5

Herschel vs. the Blubber Busters

How a cute story about a hungry sea lion became a fight over targeted animal killing.


Episode Notes

In Seattle, a pack of voracious sea lions decimates the local fish population. When fireworks and an underwater air horn don’t scare away the whisker-y mammals, bureaucrats and scientists are faced with a thorny question: Who decides which creatures get to live, and which have to die?

One Year is produced by Evan Chung, Sophie Summergrad, Sam Kim, Madeline Ducharme, and Josh Levin.

Derek John is Sr. Supervising Producer of Narrative Podcasts and Merritt Jacob is Sr. Technical Director.

Sources for This Episode


2 Sea Lions Imperil Steelhead Trout Run in West,” New York Times, Dec. 30, 1985.

A sea lion that shook off an underwater firecracker…,” United Press International, Jan. 11, 1986.

Ang, Audra. “State Gets Permission To Kill Sea Lions,” Associated Press, March 14, 1996.

Birkland, Dave. “Panel Recommends Executing Sea Lions Feeding at Locks – Herschel, Buddies Could Be Eliminated ‘Only as a Last Resort,’” Seattle Times, Nov. 5, 1994.

Blood, Tom. “A New Plan to Hoodwink Herschel,” Seattle Times, Aug. 17, 1994.

Cheng, Jessica. “One Sea Lion’s Worth - Evaluating the Role of Values in Section 120,” UCLA Journal of Environmental Law and Policy, 2011.

Clark, John R. “Herschel Rules the Waterfront,” Journal of Commerce, June 27, 1989.

Cleeland, Nancy. “When All Else Fails; Sea Lion Killings May Be Last Chance to Save Steelhead from Extinction,” San Diego Union-Tribune, March 2, 1994.

Corr, O. Casey. “Tragedy or Comedy – in Herschel the Movie, There’s a Star, a Victim and a Supporting Cast, but No Happy Ending,” Seattle Times, March 18, 1990.

Daunt, Tina. “Officials Stumped by Return of Marauding Sea Lions,” Los Angeles Times, May 11, 1990.

Eng, James L. “Agency opens way for killing of sea lions to save fish,” Associated Press, Jan. 29, 1995.

Fair, Don. “‘Herschel’: When Violence Fails, Resort to Sex,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Jan. 9, 1990.

Gammon, Katharine. “Herschel, the Very Hungry Sea Lion,” Hakai Magazine, Oct. 16, 2018.

Gillott, Roger. “Aversion Therapy Planned for Seals That Steal Fish,” Associated Press, Jan. 8, 1986.

Heinz, Spencer. “The Sea Lion Who Came to Dinner,” the Oregonian, Feb. 11, 1990.

“Herschel Missed Fireworks, Biologist Says,” Associated Press, Jan. 11, 1986.

Hopkins, Jack. “Refugee Sea Lion from Ballard Locks Dies in Florida,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Sept. 3, 1996.

Jeffries, Steven J. and Joe Scordino. “Efforts to Protect a Winter Steelhead Run from California Sea Lion Predation at the Ballard Locks,” Pinniped Populations, Eastern North Pacific: Status, Trends and Issues, Aug. 28, 1997.

“Large Net Suggested to Keep Sea Lions Out,” Associated Press, Sept. 30, 1987.

Long, Priscilla. “Herschel and the Steelheads,” the American Scholar, Jan. 9, 2013.

“Man chains himself to sea lion trap,” Associated Press, Feb. 2, 1995.

Modie, Neil. “Panel Reaffirms Death Penalty for Sea Lions,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Nov. 17, 1994.

Norton, Dee. “An Ultrasound Solution–Underwater Device May Be Tried Here on Pesky Seas Lions,” Seattle Times, March 27, 1992.

Norton, Dee. “Sea-Lion Ally Protests–Animal-Rights Activist Locks Himself in Cage,” Seattle Times, Feb. 1, 1995.

Pearson, Michael. “Herschel Granted a Stay of Execution,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Aug. 5, 1993.

Rosemary, Kristine. “Salmon vs. Sea Lions,” the Oregonian, June 17, 1994.

Schoof, Renee. “Dinner with a Bang for Steelhead-Eating Lions,” Associated Press, Dec. 10, 1985.

Schoof, Renee. “Herschel the Sea Lion Flees Firecrackers, Returns to Filch Salmon,” Associated Press, Jan. 7, 1986.

Schoof, Renee. “Herschel the Sea Lion Starts the Day With a Bang,” Associated Press, Jan. 7, 1986.

“Sea Lion Blamed for Near-Wipeout of Steelhead Run,” Associated Press, Dec. 5, 1985.

“Sea lion trio beat death, go to Sea World,” Associated Press, July 5, 1996.

Smith, Carlton. “Lethal Injection for Herschel? ‘Jury’ to Decide,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Sept. 30, 1994.

Steinberg, Lynn. “Sea Lion’s Taste for Poached Fish Lands Him in Hot Water,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Feb. 27, 1995.

Sunde, Scott. “Five Sea Lions Granted Clemency,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, April 5, 1996.

Tizon, Alex and Dee Norton. “Sea Lions Are Spared, for a Day at Least–Too Few Hands for the Hunt,” Seattle Times, March 25, 1996.

“Trout Hapless Prey at Fish Ladder; Net to Protect Steelhead from Seals to Be Deployed,” United Press International, Jan. 18, 1988.

“Trout-Ravaging Sea Lions Debut at Sea World,” Associated Press, July 5, 1996.

Ulrich, Roberta. “Trap Lies in Wait for Herschel and His Sea Lion Friends; Seattle Scientists Turn Cagey in Effort to Outwit Chompers of Steelhead,” the Oregonian, Jan. 21, 1989.

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Mapes, Lynda V. “Water’s natural rhythms nourished our area’s native culture. Then came the Ballard Locks,” Seattle Times, June 30, 2017.


About the Show

The people and struggles that changed America—one year at a time. In each episode, host Josh Levin explores a story you may have forgotten, or one you’ve never heard of before. What were the moments that transformed politics, culture, science, religion, and more? And how does the nation’s past shape our present?

The third season of One Year covers 1986, a year when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded, the mystery of Al Capone’s vaults got solved, and a sea lion named Herschel caused chaos in Seattle.

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