Big Beach final resting place for marine mammal that washed up near Black Rock

Ucluelet’s public works crew recently spent their afternoon burying a dead sea lion that had washed up on Big Beach.

The animal is believed to have died well before landing on a far corner of the beach about 20 metres from Black Rock Resort and Ucluelet Mayor Bill Irving said its close proximity to humans made the burial necessary.

“Most times they wash up in remote spots or beaches where the public isn’t quite so affected but when it rolls up on one of our local beaches right underneath a resort it creates quite a problem,” Irving said.

“It’s too far gone to remove, it would just create a big mess everywhere (so) it would be better to bury it right where it’s at.”

The deceased sea lion was a potential source of disease and its smell-which was potent- could have attracted predators so the district’s public works team joined resort staff to cover the animal in lime before burying it on Thursday.

Irving could not recall another time the district buried an animal in the beach and said signage will be installed to keep people away from the makeshift grave.

“By putting the lime on and burying it we’ve eliminated a whole lot of potential issues but

we are also going to put up a little marker with a caution on it,” he said. “Black Rock is going to check it regularly to make sure that the tide doesn’t diminish the sand cover.”

Black Rock staff had spotted the sea lion’s corpse floating in nearby waters around July 14 and were less than stoked when it arrived on their doorstep about two weeks later.

“We were really hoping the tide would take him back out and that he wouldn’t end up on the beach,” said the resort’s general manager Adele Larkin. “Unfortunately a higher tide came through and washed him up onshore.”

She said resort staff immediately told guests about the situation.

“The hope is people won’t let their dogs go roll in it and people wont go and touch it,” she said. “We’re always on the lookout for all kinds of wildlife around the area and making sure we’re communicating to our guests.” The resort contacted the department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) and placed a tarp over the sea lion while local officials determined how to dispose of it.

DFO’s marine mammals coordinator Paul Cottrell said burials are not uncommon and DFO provided the district with information on how to bury the animal properly.

“Burying on land is an option we’ve used in the past and if it’s done properly it’s fine,” Cottrell said. “It’s a way of the animal decomposing without attracting a significant amount of wildlife and it makes for good fertilizer.”

He said DFO does not get involved with removing marine mammals unless a necropsy is needed or there are a cluster of deaths that need to be investigated.

DFO’s preference is for washed up animals to remain untouched and decompose naturally but Cottrell understood why Ucluelet buried the sea lion.

“We actually prefer that they go back to nature if possible but in certain circumstances municipalities look at removing carcasses and in this case burying them,” he said. “It was in a populated area.”

He estimated the remains could be completely decomposed within a year.

“If the conditions are good and it’s in a spot where there’s moisture and there’s organic bacteria this animal could basically just be bones in a year; it depends on the sediment and the bacteria that are present,” he said.

He commended Black Rock for reporting the incident and said the resort’s actions represent an ocean conscious West Coast community.

“The communities of Ucluelet and Tofino are amazing in that the community members have been great about reporting,” he said. “The community there is aware, a lot of them are connected with the ocean so they’re out there, and it’s just fantastic to get those reports.”

He encourages locals to continue reporting sightings of dead, injured, or trapped marine mammals to DFO at 1-800-465-4336.

reporter@westerlynews.ca