WARNING: There are graphic images at the bottom of this post

Along the shores of Neck Point Park in Nanaimo, resident Deborah Short has made a few gruesome discoveries –Decapitated sea lions.

“I couldn’t believe what I was looking at. I was horrified,” said Short. “I just stood there in tears.”

Short has been finding decapitated sea lions on various beaches on Vancouver Island, from Nanaimo to Lantzville to Campbell River. She’s even found some at Neck Point Park and Pipers Lagoon Park in Nanaimo.

Since discovering the first headless sea lion in March of this year, Short has found a total of five.

“Those are the ones I’ve found, there are people who have found others and apparently boatloads,” Short said.

Among the dead mammals were Stellar sea lions, which are one of Canada’s species at risk and are under the Special Concern category.

“Without a license, it is illegal to kill pinnipeds,  seals and sea lions in B.C. waters,” explains marine mammal Zoologist Dr. Anna Hall.

Although there is speculation these acts could have been done by people, there is no concrete evidence.

“In some cases, there’s very clear evidence that the decapitation has been, well it appears to be deliberate,” said Dr. Hall. “What we can’t rule out just yet is natural causes, because the animals are subject to predation by killer whales and sharks, it just seems a little unlikely.”

Hall says sea lions play a crucial role in the marine food chain.

“They are one of the very important prey species for Transient killer whales, and of course Transient killer whales are another species at risk in Canada. We start seeing more Stellar sea lions, we see more killer whales, so there’s an integral link.,” says Dr. Hall.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans could not give any details on the decapitated sea lions at this time but does say it is investigating.

“Typically, the animals are washed up intact, however, from time to time individuals may tamper with the animals once beached. If this is determined to have been done in an effort to knowingly tamper with evidence, this would be an offence under the Criminal Code of Canada,” said the DFO in a statement to CHEK News.

For Short, seeing the sea lions on the beach sparked inspiration inside her to help stop this from happening. She hopes by sharing what she discovered, she’ll see change, and never encounter another headless sealion again.

“I was, to start with, heartbroken that anyone could possibly sever the head of a sea lion. And that heartbreak turned into anger,” said Short.

The DFO urges people to contact says one way British Columbians can help protect marine animals is to stop violations before they happen and to contact the department when they see violations occurring.

Rebecca Lawrence