A distressed California sea lion recently hauled out in Tofino but vanished before rescuers could get to it.
Local marine mammal expert Wendy Szaniszlo said Vancouver Aquarium staffers ran out of daylight before they were able to retrieve the sub adult male, which was reported around 4 p.m. on Feb. 27.
“It was decided based on the time of day that someone would go out first thing in the morning and alert the aquarium if the animal was still there,” Szaniszlo told the Westerly.
She said the sea lion was gone when officials returned at 6 a.m. and its chances for survival aren’t strong.
“I can’t say what was wrong with the animal but based on the behaviour and where it was stranded something was wrong,” she said.
She said sea lions should not be seen on local beaches as they prefer rocky areas and anyone who spots one should immediately report their sighting.
“It’s more common to see harbour seal pups, which usually well intentioned people think have been abandoned when their mums go out to feed,” she said.
“It’s very rare for a healthy sea lion to haul out on the beach so right away it’s a red flag that this animal is in distress, something is wrong with it, we may not know what it is but calling it in alerts the professionals to help figure out what that problem might be.”
Sightings can be reported to BC’s Marine Mammal Hotline at 1-800-465-4336.
Szaniszlo added early reporting can help get professionals to the scene in time to save humans and pets from dangerous interactions.
“A big concern is that this animal that is potentially in distress might get harassed and disturbed more if people and dogs are on the beach,” she said.
“If it’s an area where there is a lot of visitors and dogs running off leash then at that time it definitely is helpful to have someone stationed there to help inform people what is going on and request them to keep a safe distance and why.”
She said locals and visitors must keep a safe distance from marine wildlife and she was disappointed to hear about the amount of onlookers who reportedly gathered around the sea lion on Saturday.
“There were a lot of people and dogs around so one of the concerns is that, for the safety of the animal, having people or dogs approach it can cause a lot of stress and that’s not good for any animal that is already sick or injured,” she said.
“It also poses a real big safety concern for people and their dogs as well. These sea lions are wild animals, they’ve got incredibly powerful teeth and even if they appear to not be doing well they can, without warning, lunge and bite and cause a lot of damage and they do carry a lot of diseases…They have diseases that can be transferred to dogs and humans.”
She said the Coast is a popular spot for male California sea lions to visit this time of year and that sightings of the species have been on the rise over the past decade.
“We only have males here, the females and juveniles stay down in Mexico and California,” she said. “They come up here and it’s kind of like an extended fishing trip, and a vacation for the ladies and the young ones, and then in May they start heading back south for the breeding season.”