A sea lion that was shot in Ucluelet died yesterday at the Vancouver Aquarium’s Marine Mammal Rescue Centre.
The adult male Steller, named ‘Ukee’ by the centre’s staff, was discovered in Ucluelet on Oct. 10 and transported to the centre on Oct. 11. After roughly two weeks of treatment, the veterinary team made the difficult decision to euthanize the animal, according to a post on the centre’s Facebook page Friday afternoon.
“He wasn’t responding to treatment, and his condition had taken a significant downturn in the last two days,” said the aquarium’s head veterinarian Dr. Martin Haulena. “At this point we had to evaluate his quality of life. Although we are disappointed we couldn’t return him to full health, we are glad we could end his suffering and make his final days more comfortable. I am so proud of the team for the incredible care they gave him.”
‘Ukee’ was severely underweight at around 350 kilograms—healthy male Steller sea lions can reach around 800 kilograms—when he arrived at the centre. Veterinarians found at least one bullet lodged in the animal’s skull and determined he had been blinded.
It is illegal to shoot a sea lion without a permit in Canada and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada is investigating.
West Coast marine mammal researcher Wendy Szaniszlo told the Westerly News she was frustrated by the news of Ukee’s death and said many people believe sea lions compete with fishers.
“Sea lions are unpopular because it is perceived that they eat a lot of fish, specifically commercially targeted fish such as salmon,” she said. “Because of that, they are seen as competition and likely some folks are maybe wanting to take it in their hands to try to limit any kind of fishery-sea lion interactions…I find it very disheartening and frustrating too.”
She added that “there is very little information” around what sea lions specifically prey on and said her own research suggests salmon is only one small part of a sea lion’s diet.
“Salmon is a portion of their diet, but it’s not the biggest part of their diet and certainly not chinook salmon,” she said. “They are feeding on a wide variety of different types of fish as well as octopus and squid, it’s not specifically chinook salmon.”
She added that she was happy to see so many community members come to Ukee’s aide and report the distressed sea lion to the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre at 604-258-7325 and DFO at 1-800-465-4336.
“The Vancouver Aquarium was able to rescue the animal and do what they could to help it and try to save it. It’s just unfortunate it had the outcome that it did,” she said. “To me, it warms my heart that, while there are some people out there that truly dislike sea lions and are willing to cause them harm, there are many people out there that do like them and will do what they can to help rescue and rehabilitate them as well.”