A dead sea lion found washed ashore on Uclueletâ€™s Big Beach was buried Thursday afternoon.
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.
â€œMost times they wash up in remote spots or beaches where the public isnâ€™t quite so affected but when it rolls up on one of our local beaches right underneath a resort it creates quite a problem,â€ Irving said.
â€œItâ€™s too far gone to remove, it would just create a big mess everywhere (so) it would be better to bury it right where itâ€™s at.â€
The deceased sea lion is a potential source of disease and its potent smell could attract predators so the districtâ€™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.
â€œBy putting the lime on and burying it weâ€™ve eliminated a whole lot of potential issues but we are also going to put up a little marker with a caution on it,â€ he said. â€œBlack Rock is going to check it regularly to make sure that the tide doesnâ€™t diminish the sand cover.â€
Black Rock staff had spotted the sea lionâ€™s corpse floating in nearby waters around July 15 and were less than stoked when it arrived on their doorstep late last week.
â€œWe were really hoping the tide would take him back out and that he wouldnâ€™t end up on the beach,â€ said the resortâ€™s general manager Adele Larkin. â€œUnfortunately a higher tide came through and washed him up onshore.â€
She said resort staff immediately began letting guests know about the situation.
â€œThe hope is people wonâ€™t let their dogs go roll in it and people wont go and touch it,â€ she said. â€œWeâ€™re always on the lookout for all kinds of wildlife around the area and making sure weâ€™re communicating to our guests.â€
The resort contacted the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) and placed a tarp over the sea lion while local officials determined how best to dispose of it.
DFOâ€™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.
â€œBurying on land is an option weâ€™ve used in the past and, if itâ€™s done properly, itâ€™s fine,â€ Cottrell said. â€œItâ€™s a way of the animal decomposing without attracting a significant amount of wildlife and it makes for good fertilizer.â€
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.
DFOâ€™s preference is for dead animals that wash ashore to remain untouched and decompose naturally but Cottrell understood why Ucluelet buried the sea lion.
â€œWe 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,â€ he said. â€œIt was in a populated area.â€
He estimated the remains could be completely decomposed within a year.
â€œIf the conditions are good and itâ€™s in a spot where thereâ€™s moisture and thereâ€™s organic bacteria, this animal could basically just be bones in a year; it depends on the sediment and the bacteria that are present,â€ he said.
He commended Black Rock for reporting the incident and said the resortâ€™s actions were indicative of an ocean-conscious West Coast community.
â€œThe communities of Ucluelet and Tofino are amazing in that the community members have been great about reporting,â€ he said. â€œThe community there is aware, a lot of them are connected with the ocean so theyâ€™re out there, and itâ€™s just fantastic to get those reports.â€
He encourages locals to continue reporting sightings of dead, injured, or trapped marine mammals to DFO at 1-800-465-4336.