A sea lion, believed to have been shot in Ucluelet, remained in critical condition at the Vancouver Aquarium’s Marine Mammal Rescue Centre on Monday.
“This is clearly a serious animal welfare issue,” said the Vancouver Aquarium’s head veterinarian Dr. Martin Haulena. “It is unacceptable to shoot sea lions. Based on his body condition, this individual has been suffering for many weeks.”
The adult male Steller sea lion was spotted in distress in Ucluelet on Oct. 10 and a rescue team comprised of Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Vancouver Aquarium personnel as well as Parks Canada staffers, RCMP and volunteers, arrived on Oct. 11 to pull the animal off the beach, with support from a crane provided by Windsor Plywood, and transport it to the Rescue Centre.
Upon examination, Vancouver Aquarium veterinarian Dr. Megan Strobel determined the sea lion had been shot in the head and had at least one bullet lodged in its skull.
Strobel said the sea lion, which she believes is around 9 years old, weighs roughly 350 kilograms. That’s significantly undersized as a healthy male Steller sea lion can reach around 800 kilograms.
“He’s very skinny, very lethargic,” she said
The animal has been named ‘Ukee’.
“We’d like to share our appreciation for the community of Ucluelet,” Strobel said. “It was a challenging rescue, and we couldn’t have done it without them. Even the police chief [Sgt. Steve Mancini] was there and offered up his vessel if the animal went in the water after receiving an injection to sedate him.”
Dr. Haulena added that community members did the right thing by reporting ‘Ukee’ to both DFO and the Rescue Centre and he encourages anyone who spots a marine mammal in distress to never approach the animal, but to immediately report it to the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre at 604-258-7325 or DFO at 1-800-465-4336.
Steller sea lions have been protected as a species of special concern under Canada’s Species at Risk Act since 1970 and DFO is investigating the shooting of ‘Ukee’.
“It is illegal to shoot a sea lion, unless you hold authorization from Fisheries and Oceans Canada. As per section 7 of the Marine Mammal Regulations, it is illegal to disturb a marine mammal, and shooting would constitute a significant disturbance,” a DFO spokesperson told the Westerly News via email adding that shooting a sea lion carries a maximum fine of $500,000 for a first-time offence.
“However, without any additional evidence to tie an individual or firearm to the injured animal in question, it can be challenging to obtain sufficient evidence to lay charges.”
‘Ukee’ appears to have been blinded in the shooting and his fate remains unclear as, if he survives, he would be unable to forage for food in the wild so would not likely be a candidate for release from the Vancouver Aquarium.
A different sea lion that was blinded after being shot multiple times in Vancouver last year, was deemed non-releasable by DFO and remains in his long-term home at the Vancouver Aquarium.
Aquarium spokesperson Deana Lancaster told the Westerly that ‘Ukee’ will be temporarily, at least, housed at the aquarium though she noted the aquarium currently has three other male sea lion residents.