On Friday I drove out to spend a peaceful, sunny afternoon at an ocean beach, but instead of finding serenity, I came across an emaciated female California sea lion. I learned from locals passing by that she had been seen there for the past 5 days!! She was obviously sick or injured and had been starving for a long time. I couldn’t see any bullet holes, but there were over two dozen commercial fishing boats (trawlers) visible just offshore. There has been a rash of 20+ dead sea lions with gunshot wounds washing ashore this spring, and no one has any doubts that they’re being shot by the fishermen who view them as competition, the same way elk hunters in the Rockies see wolves.
I called a nearby Aquarium who has been performing necropsies on the dead sea lions in the area, but they said they couldn’t (or wouldn’t) do anything about her. Everyone I spoke with to try to get some help for her said they couldn’t (or wouldn’t) get involved because they feared the National Marine Fisheries Service would “bankrupt” them with fines (no great threat to me as I’m pretty much broke anyway). The so-called Marine Mammal “Protection” Act makes no allowances for protecting injured sea lions–especially not a member of a species, such as the California sea lion, which isn’t currently endangered.
When I told the people at the Aquarium that it might be a Northern sea lion (an animal on the list of endangered species, thanks to historic sealing and the ongoing over-fishing of their food supply), they showed a bit more interest, but still not enough to come out and do anything to ease her suffering. There was a strong undercurrent that no one would do anything to help a wounded animal which “competes” with fishermen for salmon and other commercially valuable fish. They told me there is a “hands off” approach regarding sea lions (no doubt because of what they eat). This is ironic since their policy of branding them with a hot iron, fitting them with cumbersome radio tracking devises and killing them if they are caught eating salmon at the dam upstream on the Columbia River is anything but “hands off.”
It was a prime example of how the powers that be don’t allow any compassion for an individual animal whose species is not currently on the brink of extinction. Fisheries agency representatives have the same kind of detached attitude as land-based wildlife “managers,” showing no concern for individuals who may be suffering, only for animal populations as a whole.
As you can see in the photos, the sea lion is starving. Judging by how little she was able to move around, she is surely unable to feed herself. I spent the afternoon shielding her from getting run over by the many rigs driving up and down the beach, and asking people not to stop and gawk (she would lift her head up whenever anyone pulled alongside her). I left for a while, and when I returned she appeared to have passed on. So I went home, but when I called on Sunday to someone who lives there to find out what happened to the body, he said she is STILL ALIVE! He nonchalantly echoed the attitude of the locals and the authorities alike, “She’ll either pull out of it, or she won’t.”
Why isn’t there something we can do for her? There are plenty of veterinary and medical facilities nearby, but no one can legally help ease or end her suffering. The authorities say they don’t know who is shooting sea lions out at sea (and they’re not doing anything to try to find out), but they’d love to bust anyone they thought was “interfering” with “nature taking its course,” even if it’s for humane reasons.
Earlier in the week I discovered a dead juvenile porpoise that had net marks above his tail. It most likely drowned in a fish net and was pitched overboard as bykill. These are just two of the many examples of the hidden cost of that fresh-caught salmon or fish filet in shrink wrap at your local market.