A Steller sea lion with a gunshot wound to its head was rescued off the west coast of Vancouver Island last Thursday.
A team from the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre retrieved the adult male Steller sea lion in Ucluelet after they received a report of a Steller sea lion who had been hauled out on a rocky shoreline and was alive, but unresponsive, for longer than a day.
WATCH: A team from the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre careas for a rescued Steller sea lion. Credit: Ocean Wise
Seven personnel from the rescue centre, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) staff, Parks Canada staff, local volunteers, a truck and crane from Windsor Plywood and a cargo van were all utilized to rescue the animal.
The animal is the biggest ever to be admitted to the centre, with an estimated weight of around 300 to 350 kilograms. This is below the healthy weight of an adult male Steller sea lion. Adult males can weigh up to 800 kilograms and reach lengths of three metres.
The animal is estimated to be about eight to ten years old and has been named Ukee after the area where he was rescued.
Dr. Megan Strobel, Vancouver Aquarium Veterinary Fellow, said preliminary exams showed at least one bullet lodged in his skull. She also said the animal is possibly blind and would have been unable to forage for food. A complete diagnosis still needs to be done when the Steller sea lion is able to be sedated.
“He’s very skinny, very lethargic,” Strobel said in a statement.
“Over the weekend, we treated him with supportive therapy, fluids and medication. This week, we’ll do x-rays and ultrasounds and get a better idea about the extent of his injuries.
Dr. Martin Haulena, head veterinarian at Vancouver Aquarium, said the situation shows a serious animal welfare issue.
“It is unacceptable to shoot sea lions. Based on his body condition, this individual has been suffering for many weeks.”
The Steller sea lion is a species of special concern under the federal Species at Risk Act. It faces threats in the wild including decreased availability of prey, pollution, predation, and entanglement. The species declined through many years of being hunted, but since 1970 it has been protected in Canada under the federal Fisheries Act, which prohibits commercial hunting of the Steller sea lion.
Ukee is still in critical condition, and won’t eat fish offered to him, but the team was encouraged when he went in and out of his pool during the weekend’s warm weather.
“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 was there and offered up his vessel if the animal went in the water after receiving an injection to sedate him.”
Ukee is the second sea lion to be admitted to the rescue centre with gunshot wounds in a year-and-a-half.
In May 2017, Señor Cinco, an adult male California sea lion, was rescued from Spanish Banks beach in Vancouver. He’d been blinded and his teeth broken by multiple gunshots — unable to forage and feed himself, he was severely emaciated. After a year of rehabilitation at the Rescue Centre, Señor Cinco was deemed non-releasable by Fisheries and Oceans Canada and moved to his long-term home at the Vancouver Aquarium.
If you see a marine mammal that you believe is in distress, stay back, keep people and pets away and call the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre at 604-258-SEAL (7325), or the DFO hotline at 1-800-465-4336.