An onslaught of sea lions has taken over a public dock and several private ones in Ucluelet.
A particularly large barking band, boasting often over 100 sea lions, has been bellowing out a symphony from 52 Steps Dock with loud enough to cascade through town and, while the raucous concert has attracted excited onlookers, it also struck fear in some residents over their heavy impact on the docks over the past several weeks.
Ucluelet’s Harbour Master Kevin Cortes told the Westerly News that he is not currently concerned about damage being done to 52 Steps, but he is monitoring the situation closely.
“I’ve been down there a few times this week and they scattered and the dock comes back up to the level it was at before,” he said. “The dock itself is fine…Because it’s wood, it will stretch a little bit. I went on the dock yesterday and, once they scattered away from me, the dock seemed and looked fine.”
Cortes has been managing the district’s public harbour since 2013 and said he has never seen this many sea lions on public infrastructure, adding several private docks have also been onslaught by sea lions.
He said he was attending a Harbour Association AGM in Prince Rupert with members of DFO when he first started receiving photos from residents of the sea lion takeover.
He said he spoke with DFO personnel who offered tips and research links to look into about moving the sea lions on safely and has some ideas to put into action if the situation gets worse.
He added he spoke to an American company about potentially bringing in an electrified walkway, but suggested that strategy would come with a hefty price tag.
“I’ll present a few things for the district and see if they want to proceed with them,” he said.
He suggested scarecrows and inflatable deterrents would likely not serve as effective long term solutions.
“They’ll work for a short time, but sea lions are smart, they’ll figure it out. With scarecrows, same thing, eventually they’ll figure it out. I have a few ideas but I have to get authorization to use them,” he said.
He said spigots that squirt water, commonly used to protect gardens, could be a possibility as well as potentially installing cutout deterrents.
“At this point I’m just holding course,” he said. “I’m monitoring it as it goes to figure out if I need to do anything more aggressively. Presently I don’t assess that there’s any damage being done to the dock so I’m not as concerned…I’m hoping that they move along.”
He added residents are advised not to get too close to the animals and view them from a safe distance.
The Westerly sent photos of the sea lions to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada and DFO spokesperson Lara Sloan identified the animals as California Sea Lions, which breed at rookeries in southern California and New Mexico.
“A portion of the male population has been making their way North, some up to BC waters —typically around Vancouver Island-Salish Sea and the west coast of Vancouver Island arriving early fall and leaving at some point in the spring after the herring spawn,” Sloan wrote in an email to the Westerly.
Sloan added that Marine Mammal Regulations must be complied with when attempting to view, or disperse, sea lions.
“Throughout Canada, it is forbidden to injure or disturb a marine mammal (except under specific circumstances for which an authorization from DFO has been received),” she wrote.
She added that feeding, touching or swimming with the animals is prohibited as is moving, luring or coaxing sea lions to swim in a specific direction or separating one from its group.
“Potential physical adjustments to docks and marinas may be utilized as passive deterrents to limit pinniped interactions with humans on docks if they comply with the Marine Mammal Regulations,” she wrote.
Anyone who sees a marine mammal being harassed is encouraged to report their sighting to DFO at 1-800-465-4336.
She added that anyone found breaking Marine Mammal Regulations can face a fine of up to $500,000 or up to two years imprisonment.
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