Oregon Town Spooks Sea Lions With Wacky Waving Inflatable Tube Men

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Officials in Astoria, Oregon, have found temporary salvation from an ongoing sea lion problem with strategically placed inflatable tube men. (Photo: By wanderinghiker/Shutterstock)


Much to the chagrin of locals, many tourists flock to the quaint Victorian seafaring hub of Astoria, Oregon, to see two things: the fictional home of “Goonies” protagonist Mikey Walsh (damned out-of-towners, stop truffle-shuffling on my lawn!) and a sizable colony of sea lions that have co-opted the city’s portside docks.

While “Goonies” fans can easily be warded off with sternly worded signage (and hey, there’s still the “Short Circuit” house and the school from “Kindergarten Cop” to gawk at), getting thousands of blubbery, barking marine mammals to disperse in a cooperative manner has proven to be one hell of a task.

Embattled officials with the Port of Astoria have tried just about everything — from chicken wire to electrified mats to beach balls — to scatter the disruptive, destructive interlopers from California that descend on the East End Mooring Basin each spring due to a local abundance of smelt and migrating salmon.

And then there was last summer’s failed attempt at spooking the federally protected pinnipeds with a motorized fiberglass orca named Fake Willy. That mission went belly up. No but seriously, the boat, a former parade float done up like a killer whale, capsized right in front of the lounging sea lions. Just as these highly intelligent creatures are able to learn tricks, they're also smart enough not to fall for them.

Now it would appear that a staple of used car lots and mattress liquidators may be the one thing capable of hazing a scourge of sea lions: wacky waving inflatable arm-flailing tube men.

These fan-powered outdoor advertising products that first debuted at the 1996 Summer Olympics in a larger and more artistic form apparently possess two things that perturb sea lions enough for them to hightail it back to sea: bright colors and sharp, sporadic movements.

Watch what happened when a quartet of the inflatables were first turned on at the docks:

Bye-bye sea lions. (Also, rude!)

While obviously effective, Port of Astoria executive director Jim Knight views the inflatable fabric boogeymen as more or less a temporary fix that allows for a more permanent solution: a series of steel railings. Essentially, deploying dancin' tube dudes to clear the sea lions from the docks buys precious time for a team of welding students from a local high school program to swoop in and install the railings in the animals' absence, explains the Daily Astorian.

But not everyone minds that the sea lions are loud, smelly and very much in the way. The Sea Lion Defense Brigade, for one, thinks the animals should be left alone. Instead of attempting to scare them off to reclaim the docks, the group suggests that the port, which is rightfully concerned about both physical damage and the economic impact of the sea lions on the local fishing industry, start charging tourists to view the basking beasts and use the funds raised to build new dock infrastructure.

And while deploying air puppets to send a colony of stubborn sea lions packing may seem unusual, particularly after the disastrous fake orca ruse, this certainly isn’t the first time that they’ve been used to menace critters.

In an excellent history on the rise and fall of the tube dude titled “Biography of an Inflatable Tube Guy,” Sam Dean details how this once-ubiquitous roadside fixture has been banned by numerous municipalities across the country (its crime: being tacky) only to be embraced by farmers for their remarkable bird-deterring abilities. Marketed as AirRangers by outdoor advertisement purveyor Look Our Way, these agriculture-specific inflatable tube men scowl instead of smile and have shiny, reflective “fingers” and “hair.”

And much like their wide-grinning, promotion-minded brethren, the nimble animated scarecrows otherwise known as AirRangers are inherently funny. It's not easy pinpointing why they're funny, aside to say they look ridiculous.

Writes Dean:

In a sense, the tube guy is a physical manifestation of how humor works. When you think he’s standing still, he flops down; when you think he’s flopped down for good, he pops back up, still stupidly grinning, in the face of all this calamity, still waving his little arms in the air. As with birds, the movement is just unpredictable enough to make us keep watching. To something common between human and avian brains, it almost seems alive.

And aside from spooking birds, scattering sea lions and selling discount appliances, let’s not forget that, true to their name, these herky-jerky humanoids make for excellent dancing partners.

Via [Daily Astorian] via [The Oregonian]