Tom Hlavac is pulled to the ocean off Nanoose like a needle in a compass because the area called Madrona Point has become famous for its friendly sea lions.
“As a diver, I’d way rather see a sea lion than not see a sea lion. It makes the dive way more exciting,” said Tom Hlavac, a Nanaimo resident who’s been diving for over 40 years.
After a lifelong career as a Fisheries and Oceans officer, he enjoys diving underwater in the sea life-rich area on his own time.
But that thrill was replaced with shock off Nanoose Bay Sunday when he came across a female sea lion lying dead off the rocks with a bullet hole below its eye. Hlavac estimates the animal had been dead just a few days.
“Really disappointing, really sad. You could see the head wound on it,” said Hlavac.
Six dead seals washed up last fall on Denman Island with bullet holes. But according to the group lobbying the federal fisheries minister for a cull, or controlled harvest of what they estimate to be 50,000 sea lions and 100,000 seals off B.C.’s coast, they’re not responsible for the deaths.
“I haven’t got any names, but there’s a lot of frustrated sports fishermen, First Nations, commercial fishermen frustrated with getting this harvesting proposal in place, and they’ve up and down the coast taken matters into their own hands,” said Ken Pearce, a representative of the Pacific Balance Pinniped Society.
So Pearce is appealing to those illegally shooting the seals and sea lions to stop, as the threat of charges and hurting someone is high.
“Two words, stop it. It doesn’t help the cause at all,” said Pearce.
Hlavac is warning divers and people in the area to be aware because of how close this shot sea lion was to shore.
“You’re risking sending a bullet whistling off. Just a ripple on the water can bounce a bullet from a hunting rifle a couple hundred metres once it’s skipped off the water,” said Hlavac.
As the fight for a legal cull continues, anyone with information on who is illegally shooting seals and sea lions is asked to contact Fisheries and Oceans.