Wednesday, October 16, 1996 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Dear Fake Willy, -- Willy, My Main Orca, Let Me Get This Straight:

Seattle Times Staff Reporter

------------------------------------------------------------------ Editor's note:

We sent Seattle Times staff reporter Jack Broom out to meet Fake Willy, the Fiberglas whale that is making its Puget Sound debut today, and he fired off this letter to the would-be sea-lion scarecrow. ------------------------------------------------------------------

In the job you're auditioning for today, you have to weather Puget Sound currents, brave 58-degree water, rise up and down with 11-foot tides, stay 10 feet below the surface and never come up for air.

And on top of that, you're supposed to scare the sea lions back to California, but not bother the salmon or the steelhead?

I have to tell you, Willy, that sounds like a tall order for a real killer whale, let alone for a 200-pound hunk of painted Fiberglas.

And your handlers say that until they lowered you nose-first into the Sound this morning, you'd never even been wet!

Hey, don't get me wrong. If you can spook the sea lions that turned the Ballard Locks into their own seafood smorgasbord, more power to you. Save the steelhead run and you'll be a local hero.

But can an overgrown bathtub toy succeed where rubber-tipped arrows, firecrackers, rubber bullets, air horns and even kidnapping have failed?

You sure didn't look very monstrous today when I saw you head out from that dock in Ballard. Maybe that's because you're just 16 feet long and the Divers' Institute of Technology boat carrying you is 65.

And remember yesterday, when I thumped you on the snout? You didn't even react. You think that silent treatment is going to deter a hungry sea lion?

I realize you don't have the job permanently yet. You're just out for a two-day test to see if the ropes and anchor set near West Point will hold you securely and let you rise up and down with the tide.

It doesn't sound like much fun, Willy, but I guess because you're a whale -albeit a pretend one - even this two-day dip is better than being cooped up in a warehouse on Aurora Avenue North. Wasn't it boring out there this past year, waiting for all those government agencies - how many, eight? - to approve your debut?

But admit it, Willy. You couldn't have been too surprised when some bureaucrats doubted your abilities.

Surely you must have heard Bob Everitt say how hard it is to scare sea lions - and to keep them scared?

His people at the state Fish and Wildlife Department have even tried piping recorded killer-whale sounds into the water. As soon as the sea lions realized the noise wasn't a threat, they went back to stuffing their faces with fresh fish.

A lot of people are betting the same thing will happen with you. You look like a whale, but sea lions might not think you're so tough, hanging around under your buoy all day.

I'll admit one thing, though: Your credentials are intriguing. Your backers have been telling anyone who'll listen about the Scottish fish farmer who made you, and how he has other plastic whales, just like you, keeping seals away from his salmon pens.

You should have seen how quickly listeners of KISW-FM responded when they heard that last year, sending in the $3,000 you cost.

So then what? You make that killer trip here - from ship to train to truck - and you've been sitting around waiting to show your stuff ever since. I know, it hasn't all been drudgery. You must have enjoyed those community appearances - the Fourth of July Parade in Burien and a visit to the Puyallup Fair.

But didn't you feel a little sheepish when the Coast Guard had to shoo you away from the Lake Washington floating bridges after you went out there on a boat and brought traffic to a crawl?

All that's behind you now, buddy. This is the real thing.

Next to a runaway ferry boat, an adult sea lion might be the scariest thing on Puget Sound. The males can weigh up to 1,200 pounds and pack a pretty big bite. Ask any steelhead.

Even Bob Rivers, the KISW morning host who has been seen with you around town, isn't sure you can pull it off. But he and his listeners want the sea lions to get one last chance to leave peacefully.

Rivers told me the other day he just wants fisheries people to "give this a shot before they shoot."

Because if the sea lions don't scram soon, state agents have federal permission to go back out next spring with guns. And this time the bullets won't be rubber.

So, good luck, Willy. Your public is watching.

Sincerely, Jack Broom

Copyright (c) 1996 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


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