How a shocking environmental disaster was uncovered off the California coast after 70 years


APRIL 12, 2021 / 6:48 AM / CBS NEWS

Just 10 miles off the coast of Los Angeles lurks an environmental disaster over 70 years in the making, which few have ever heard about. That is, until now, thanks to the research of a University of California marine scientist named David Valentine. 

Working with little more than rumors and a hunch, curiosity guided him 3,000 feet below the ocean’s surface. A few hours of research time and an autonomous robotic submersible unearthed what had been hidden since the 1940s: countless barrels of toxic waste, laced with DDT, littering the ocean floor in between Long Beach and Catalina Island. 


The fact that his underwater camera spotted dozens of decaying barrels immediately in what is otherwise a barren, desert-like sea floor, Valentine says, is evidence that the number of barrels is likely immense. Although the exact number is still unknown, a historical account estimates it may be as many as a half a million.

After 70-plus years of inaction, Valentine’s research has finally helped initiate a huge research effort to reveal the extent of the contamination.

But this offshore dump site is only a part of the story of environmental damage from years of DDT discharge along the coast of Southern California — a story which likely won’t be closed for decades to come because of its ongoing impact, including a recently discovered alarming and unprecedented rate of cancer in the state’s sea lion population, with 1 in every 4 adult sea lions plagued with the disease.

The history of DDT dumping

The chemical DDT was invented in 1939 and used during World War II as a pesticide helping to protect troops from insect-borne diseases like Malaria. After the war, production of the chemical ramped up and it became routinely used in the spraying of crops, and even over crowded beaches, to eliminate pests like mosquitos.


But in the 1960s, DDT was discovered to be toxic. Over time, eating food laced with DDT builds up inside the tissues of animals and even humans, resulting in harmful side effects. The EPA now calls it a “probable human carcinogen.” In 1972, when the U.S. government started taking environmental pollution seriously with legislation like the Clean Air Act, DDT was banned in the United States.  

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The largest DDT manufacturer in the U.S., Montrose Chemical Corporation, was located along the Southern California coast in the city of Torrance. From 1947 through 1982, Montrose manufactured and distributed DDT worldwide. In doing so, a byproduct mix of toxic sludge made up of petrochemicals, DDT and PCBs was produced.

For decades, that hazardous waste was disposed of in two ways. Some of the toxic pollution was dumped into storm drains and the sewer system, which was then pumped out to sea through outflow pipes, 2 miles offshore of the city of Rancho Palos Verdes.

The rest of the waste was disposed of in barrels which were loaded onto barges and floated 10 to 15 miles offshore to waste dumping sites off Catalina Island and then jettisoned into the ocean.


While it may seem hard to believe, at least part of the dumping was legally permitted. Back then, Valentine says, the prevailing thought was the ocean’s were so huge that they could never be compromised. The mantra was “dilution is the solution to pollution” — in hindsight a naïve notion.

But while the designated dumping site was very deep — in 3,000 feet of water — Valentine says shortcuts were taken, with barrels being dumped much closer to shore. And, in an effort to get the barrels to sink, there is evidence that many were slashed, allowing poison to leak, as they were dropped into the ocean. 

For decades, the existence of these toxic barrels was surmised only by a very small group of scientists and regulators. That’s despite a startling report produced in the 1980s by a California Regional Water Quality Control Board scientist named Allan Chartrand, which asserted there may be as many as 500,000 barrels laced with DDT sitting on the ocean floor.

The report was largely ignored. But after nearly 30 years, Valentine dusted it off as he began his quest to see if these barrels existed. 

The inshore toxic waste site

Unlike the deep water dumping sites, the shallower toxic site — called the Palos Verdes Shelf — 2 miles off the beaches of Rancho Palos Verdes was well-known and documented. In 1996, this zone was declared a Superfund clean-up site by the EPA, now comprising a 34-square-mile area. Montrose was sued and after a protracted legal battle ending in late 2000 the companies involved, including Montrose, settled for $140 million.


Over the past two decades, most of the money has been used by a program called the Montrose Settlements Restoration Program (MSRP) to try to restore the contaminated sites. Half of the funds were allocated to the EPA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to rehabilitate ecosystems impacted by the poison.

DDT gets into the food chain when it is consumed from the contaminated ocean bottom by tiny marine creatures, which are then eaten by small fish, which are then consumed by larger fish and marine mammals, like sea lions. Over time DDT builds up in the tissues and blubber of marine animals, a process called bioaccumulation. To this day, signs all along the Southern California coast warn fishermen not to eat certain fish. Despite this, you cannot get DDT contamination from swimming in the water.

Scientists say the contamination at this shallower water site is the most likely food chain route which leads to DDT building up in sea lion blubber. That’s because there is a much greater amount of marine life living in shallower water. But that does not rule out contamination from the much deeper site as well. 

To try to remedy these pollution problems, NOAA has used its share of the funds to manage almost 20 restoration projects off the LA coast, like restoring kelp forest habitat, helping migratory seabirds and restoring 500 acres of critical coastal marsh habitat in Huntington Beach.

The last project of the effort — just completed — was the commissioning of an artificial reef just off the beaches of Rancho Palos Verdes. To accomplish this, NOAA hired a team of scientists from the Southern California Marine Science Institute and Vantuna Research Group at Occidental College to design and deploy the reef. 

The reef building effort was led by Jonathan Williams, a marine biologist from Occidental College. The project involved strategically placing more than 70,000 tons of quarry rock on the ocean bottom just off the beach. Williams says that the reef was an immediate success, with thousands of fish flocking to the rocks.


This reef site is much closer to shore than the contamination site, which is 2 miles from land. That’s by design. Williams says the idea is to construct new habitat for fish and kelp in uncontaminated areas to build up healthy populations of fish. This helps limit the amount of toxins, like DDT, which enters the food chain.

As predators at the top of the food chain, DDT in fish is also a danger to people. Williams says this is especially true of underserved communities who are mostly likely to subsistence fish, eating what they catch. In this way, NOAA’s project addresses environmental justice by attempting to make fish more safe to eat. 

Two miles offshore, Williams says that after years of measuring high levels of DDT on the Palos Verdes Shelf, levels have started to drop precipitously, a sign that some of the DDT may finally be starting to break down. 

Discovering the barrels

Despite the fact that the toxic barrels were dumped in the 1940s, 50s and 60s, their existence just became common knowledge this past fall when the Los Angeles Times published a feature on Valentine’s work. But his discovery dates all the way back to 2011 when he first decided to see if the rumors of the barrels were true. In 2013 he made another short trip to the site. But his research was not published until March of 2019.

In all, his time-limited work yielded visuals of 60 barrels. Besides bringing back video of the leaking barrels, his team was also able to collect samples from the ocean floor. One of them registered a contamination 40 times greater than the highest contamination at the Superfund site, indicating that the toxins down deep are still very concentrated.

Armed with this compelling evidence, Valentine said that he “beat the drum” for years, speaking to various government agencies, trying to get some interest, but to no avail. However, when the LA Times story came out, interest finally followed as public outcry grew.

But before his discovery in 2011, Valentine placed part of the blame for the lack of knowledge about the barrels on the lack of technology to find it. It’s only in the past couple of decades that the technology became available to make this deep water research feasible.

Coincidentally, on the very day CBS News went to visit Valentine in Southern California, Scripps Institution of Oceanography began a two-week mission to survey almost 50,000 feet of the deep ocean seafloor. 


Employing a large research vessel called the Sally Ride, 31 scientists and crew members, and two high-tech autonomous robots they call Roombas, the team used sophisticated sonar to map the ocean bottom and assess how many barrels there are.  

Scripps Researchers aboard the Research Vessel Sally Ride using the REMUS 600 and Bluefin automated underwater vehicles (AUVs) to survey the seafloor for discarded DDT barrels in March 2021.SCRIPPS

As of our last conversation with Eric Terrill, the team leader, the final number had still not been tallied. But even as early as a week into the research mission, Terrill described detecting tens of thousands of targets and said the number of barrels seemed “overwhelming.”

The two-week mission is now complete, but the team is still putting together the pieces. They expect to have a final report published at the end of April.

Sea lions in trouble

Located right near the Golden Gate Bridge, the mission of the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, California is to rescue marine mammals in distress. Since 1975, the organization says they have rescued 24,000.

In December, the team published a 30-year study on sea lions, finding an alarming statistic: 25% of adult sea lions have cancer.

CBS News interviewed the lead veterinarian Dr. Cara Field. She called the number of sea lions with cancer both “extremely alarming” and “unprecedented in wildlife.” Last year the Marine Mammal Center had to euthanize 29 sea lions because of cancer.


In the report, the research team pointed to a combination of herpesvirus and contaminants like DDT and PCBs as the cause of cancer. In all cases of cancer, sea lions had elevated levels of DDT and PCBs in their blubber. The theory goes that the contaminants weaken the body’s immune system, making the virus more effective.

Because sea lions travel up and down the California coast yearly, scientists believe they may pick up the contaminants when they are near their breeding site on the Channel Islands off the coast of Southern California.

And while it seems logical that the sea lion contamination is coming from polluted sites in shallow water, scientists do not yet know how much of the DDT from barrels in deeper water may be entering the food chain. This, they say, will require more research.

While there are still many unanswered questions, one lesson from this story of DDT contamination is clear: When humans callously pollute the environment it can have consequences for generations to come. One current example is human-caused climate change. The question is, how much of a burden will our children and grandchildren have to bear as result of our choices?

Decapitated sea lions keep washing up on Vancouver Island; expert sees a pattern

Ian HollidayReporter,

@Ian_Holliday ContactPublished Saturday, June 27, 2020 6:17PM PDTLast Updated Saturday, June 27, 2020 6:59PM PDT 90% Disturbing discoveries on Vancouver Island NOW PLAYINGHeadless sea lions are washing up on the shore of Vancouver Island, and marine experts say it’s a deliberate, disgusting act.

VANCOUVER — Headless sea lions have been washing up on Vancouver Island since spring, and a marine mammal expert says it’s likely the animals were deliberately beheaded by humans.

Anna Hall is a marine mammal zoologist at Sea View Marine Sciences. She says photos of the dead pinnipeds suggest a pattern in their injuries.

“To me, this looks intentional, whether it’s by a single person or a group of people,” Hall said. “I sincerely hope that fisheries and oceans canada pursues this case to determine who is doing this and to bring them to justice because this is a violation of federal law.”

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Most of the photos CTV News showed to Hall were taken by Nanaimo resident Deborah Short, who says she’s personally encountered several dead sea lions without heads on the shore between Campbell River and Nanaimo.

Short discovered the first one while walking along the beach at Neck Point Park in Nanaimo.

“I was devastated, completely devastated by it,” she said. “I couldn’t believe that somebody could sever the head of a sea lion … It was shocking to me.”

Soon, though, she learned of another headless sea lion that had been found near Campbell River. And then she started encountering more herself.

In total, she says, she’s aware of five headless sea lions that have washed up on Vancouver Island since March.

“When you see something like that, it moves you,” Short said. “It moves you in a way where you want to find more, and you want to do something about it.”

She reached out to conservation groups, including Sea Shepherd and the Animal Alliance of Canada. The latter organization, she learned, is petitioning against a proposed cull of seals and sea lions on Canada’s west coast.

While there’s no indication that the headless sea lions Short discovered are in any way related to the proposal to cull the local population, she said she’s determined to stop the killing of additional marine mammals.

CTV News Vancouver Island reached out to Fisheries and Oceans Canada and was told the federal agency is looking into the headless sea lion phenomenon.

Hall, the marine mammal zoologist, said at least one of the sea lions Short photographed appears to be a Steller sea lion, which is a species that has a special conservation status under the Species at Risk Act.

She said all marine mammals are also protected from disturbance, injury or harm by clauses in the Fisheries Act.

Hall hopes Fisheries and Oceans Canada will do a necropsy on one of the deceased sea lions to determine its cause of death.

“It’s absolutely horrific and appalling that there’s anybody on this coastline that would feel that this is an appropriate course of action with regard to a marine mammal or any animal at all,” Hall said.RELATED IMAGES

  • Headless sea lions have been washing up on Vancouver Island since spring, and a marine mammal expert says it’s likely the animals were deliberately beheaded by humans. (Photo: Deborah Short)
  • A sea lion soaks up the sun on a jetty near the mouth of the Fraser River in this photo from David Price, submitted through Weather Watch by CTV Vancouver.

Charges laid in controversial B.C. ‘seal bomb’ incident caught on camera

 WATCH: This video may be disturbing to some viewers. A B.C. fisherman launches a ‘bear banger’ into the water near a pack of sea lions.
A B.C. man filmed throwing a so-called “bear banger” into a raft of sea lions near Hornby Island last spring is facing charges under the Fisheries Act and Explosives Act.

The video, which came to light last March, shows Allen Marsden lighting the fuse on one of the explosive noise-makers and throwing it into the water where a large number of the animals had congregated.

READ MORE: ‘Disturbing’ video of ‘seal bomb’ sparks debate about conflict between fishers, B.C. sea lions

Court records show Marsden facing three charges, related to the disturbance of marine mammals and the use of explosives.

Fisherman criticized for using ‘bear banger’ on sea lions

Fisherman criticized for using ‘bear banger’ on sea lions

The records also indicate an intent to plead guilty.

The video was initially posted to the Facebook group of the Pacific Balance Pinniped Society, a group of First Nations and commercial fishers advocating for a West Coast seal hunt, and drew support from other fishers and condemnation from people who describe the action as cruel.

Many fishers on B.C.’s south coast argue that the sea lion population has exploded in recent years and is devastating the fishery.

READ MORE: Seal meat supper? B.C. group calls for West Coast seal hunt

In a phone interview at the time the video emerged, Marsden told Global News the video was shot while he and his crew were taking samples of herring roe for the fishing industry.

Marsden said there were as many as 500 sea lions in the area, and that the bear banger was not actually effective on the animals, who he described as a danger to his crew.

However the Vancouver Aquarium says the device could cause injury to the sea lions’ face, eyes or jaw along with their hearing.

The aquarium says the area’s sea lion population has not exploded, but rather, has returned to historical levels after decades of aggressive hunting.

A sea lion named Mandalorian had to be euthanized after suffering pellet gun wounds

A California animal rescue organization named this injured sea lion Mandalorian.

(CNN)A California sea lion rescued in mid-December after it was found suffering from pellet gun wounds had to be euthanized because of its injuries.

Animal control found the 1½-year-old female sea lion in distress at a surfing spot called The Wedge in Newport Beach, California, on December 16. Her rescuers at the Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach named her Mandalorian.
Krysta Higuchi, a spokeswoman for the center, told CNN there are several Star Wars fans on staff and they have named other rescued animals after “Star Wars” characters like Yoda, Leia and Skywalker.
One of the rescuers had just finished watching the popular Disney series “The Mandalorian” and wanted to give the injured sea lion a good, strong name.
Rescuers found two distinct wounds on the sea lion, including a draining abscess on her dorsal back that was causing significant pain and discomfort and limiting her mobility, according to a press release.
An X-ray revealed two wounds on her chest that most likely came from a pellet rifle. One of the pellets struck between her ribs and vertebrae, and the entry point was severely infected. The other pellet was lodged between two ribs.

An X-ray reveals fragments of two pellets in the sea lion.

“We tried draining the abscess but once (staff) noticed the gunshot wounds, it was a waiting game to see if she would make a turn for the better,” Higuchi said. “Unfortunately, she made a turn for the worse.”
Mandalorian was carefully monitored throughout the next week but her health continued to decline. On December 22, she was humanely euthanized.
During the necropsy, staff discovered her body was filled with puss and dead tissue.
“We know we made the right decision and the animal is no longer suffering,” Higuchi said.
She told CNN they have no idea why this sea lion was shot but said it could have been some young kids playing with a pellet gun, an angry fisherman, or even someone annoyed that the sea lion was on his or her boat.
“There’s a way we can cohabitate with these animals,” she said. “If an animal is in a location where it shouldn’t be, we’ll help get it relocated and assist with animal control.”
The gunshot pellets were recovered and sent to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service Office of Law Enforcement for investigation. The office investigates suspected violations of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which bans injuring or killing marine mammals in the wild, including sea lions.

Seal meat takes centre stage at Quebec culinary festival

Chefs say food hypocrisy has no place at their tables

Chef Jean-Philippe Bourassa-Caron serves seal meat for brunch during Seal Fest in Quebec City at Chez Boulay restaurant. Bourassa-Caron’s dish: seal terrine on mushroom purée topped with a bordelaise sauce and poached eggs. (Jane Adey/CBC)


Chef Jean-Philippe Bourassa-Caron prepares poached eggs and a bordelaise sauce for a new feature at his Chez Boulay restaurant in Quebec City.

The sauce and eggs complement an unexpected part of this brunch dish, a meat terrine made with seal.

“I really like to work with seal because it’s a nice taste,” said Bourassa-Caron.

Chez Boulay is one of 20 restaurants in Quebec City, Lévis and Montreal taking part in the second annual Seal Fest, a 10-day culinary festival celebrating seal meat.

Seal terrine (similar to paté) is served with bordelaise sauce, poached eggs and beets at Chez Boulay during Seal Fest 2019. (Jane Adey /CBC)

Bourassa-Caron says he knows some customers might have negative attitudes about the Canadian seal hunt, but he says those attitudes might need to be updated.

“You need to challenge your mind. You need to open your mind and give (it) a try.”

Seal Fest is a promotion by a Quebec company, SeaDNA, which sells seal meat and seal oil capsules, and by the Seals and Sealing Network, a national non-profit organization that promotes sustainable use of seals.

Frozen harp seal meat is harvested in Newfoundland and Labrador. Seal in French is ‘loup marine’ or ‘phoque.’ (Jane Adey/CBC)

Both the federal government and the provincial government of Quebec are supporting the event.

Andy Guffroy, head chef at L’Intimiste restaurant in Lévis, has prepared seal charcuterie for customers to try served with cheese, mussels and figs. He’s keen to expose foodies to seal meat and help educate diners about the hunt.

“I think we are a little bit hypocritical about meat. We go to the grocery stores and we buy the final product. We don’t see where it’s comes from. We don’t have any idea,” he said.

“So when we did research about the seal (hunt) we discovered that it’s very responsible in the way it’s done. It’s the way that needs to be done and there’s nothing horrible about it.”

Restaurant L’Intimiste in Lévis, Que., serves seal charcuterie and seal rillette (a thick meat spread) with cheese, mussels and figs during Seal Fest 2019. (Jane Adey/CBC)

Harp seal is harvested near the Magdalen Islands but most of the meat used during the festival is harvested in Newfoundland and Labrador. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans estimates the current harp seal population to be 7.4 million animals, almost six times what it was in the 1970s.

“There is some evidence to suggest that the Northwest Atlantic harp seal population may be reaching levels close to its natural carrying capacity, which is the maximum number of individuals of a particular species that can be sustained by that species’ ecosystem,” reads DFO’s website.

Andy Guffroy, head chef at L’ Intimiste restaurant in Quebec, likes to educate customers about wild meat, including seal. (Jane Adey/CBC)

Seal tataki is on the menu at Le Renard et La Chouette. Chef Sarah Arab serves pieces of seal loin, lightly seared and rolled in Nordic shrimp powder she made from shrimp shells and herbs. She says she’s enjoyed learning more about the seal population and how they’re harvested.

“It was pretty eye-opening for me. I was more curious about it, naturally,” said Arab.

Her customers are curious too. Monica Oliver of Toronto sampled the seal tataki at Le Renard et La Chouette.

Chef Sarah Arab prepares seal tataki for Seal Fest 2019. Tataki is a dish consisting of meat or fish steak, served either raw or lightly seared. (Jane Adey/CBC)

“I got to say, it is an amazing dish,” she said, admitting to feeling some trepidation when she saw it on the menu.

“Growing up, it was definitely [the feeling that] seal hunting was very bad. I think Canadians definitely do need to hear both sides of the story and then make their decision.”

Felix Bajeau of Quebec City ordered up a seal meal during the festival too. He said he particularly enjoys eating wild meat.

“My brother is a hunter, so he hunt deers. If you eat meat it’s probably the same as eating beef or pork when you eat seal and maybe it’s even better because the animal lived a happy life in the wild before being eaten,” said Bajeau.

Chef Sarah Arab served the tataki rolled in herb crust and lightly seared, with parsnip purée, anchovy and za’atar vinaigrette with clams. (Jane Adey/CBC)

At Le Pied Bleu restaurant on Rue Saint Vallier in Quebec City, chef Fabrice Quenehen cooks up typical French cuisine inspired by his home in Lyon, France. For Seal Fest, Quenehen made a seal saucisson — or sausage — and served it in a lentil stew with a mushroom and red wine sauce.

“I really enjoyed to cook with this meat,” said Quenehen.

He encourages more chefs to experiment with seal and especially chefs in Newfoundland and Labrador. He says he’d like to see a seal cookbook that helps Canadians understand how to use this particular protein.

Fabrice Quenehen, originally from Lyon, France, is head chef at Le Pied Bleu in Quebec City and known for his cuisine using things like heart, liver, kidneys and glands. During Seal Fest 2019, he prepared seal saucisson for customers. (Jane Adey/CBC)

“We can eat this meat because the population is healthy enough to sustain it,” said Quenehen.

The quota for harp seals in Newfoundland and Labrador is 400,000 animals. In 2018, 60,000 animals were taken from that quota, far fewer than is allowed.

Seal Fest began March 21 and runs until Sunday.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

Another sea lion confirmed shot and killed in Puget Sound

Seal Sitters MMSN Co-Investigator Lynn Shimamoto responds to a dead California sea lion in West Seattle. (Photo Copyright: Robin Lindsey, Seal Sitters MMSN)


Following another necropsy, a 10th sea lion has been confirmed to be shot and killed in Puget Sound, according to the Seal Sitters Marine Mammal Stranding Network.

The group, which responds to reports of stranded or dead sea lions, noted on their blog Sunday morning that the shot sea lions now totals 10.

Sixteen dead sea lions have been reported throughout King and Kitsap counties, some of whom suffered “acute trauma,” which can be caused by a number of incidents, including human interaction (boating collisions or shooting), or animal attacks (killer whales or sharks). The latest confirmed shooting death was a sea lion found in West Seattle on Friday.

The Seal Sitters Marine Mammal Stranding Network noted in an earlier post that the number of sea lions shot recently is six times higher than the yearly average between September and November, worrying that the “high season” for violence against the animals is still to come.

Killing sea lions remains illegal under the Marine Mammal Act. The punishment for killing one can be up to a year in prison and a $25,000 fine. Laws recommend that a minimum distance of 100 yards is best for keeping sea lions safe.

The Seal Sitters join NOAA and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society in trying to stop the violence. NOAA is reportedly working on developing guidelines to encourage fisherman to use nonviolent methods to deter sea lions, while also investigating the recent slayings.

“We are concerned about a number of recent reports of marine mammal deaths caused by gunshots in the greater Seattle area,” Greg Busch, assistant director of NOAA Fisheries’ West Coast Office of Law Enforcement, said in a statement last week. “All marine mammals are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act and OLE investigates all reported unlawful takes of sea lions.”

Two organizations, Marine Animal Rescue and Sea Shepherd Seattle, offer rewards for any information leading to an arrest in the shootings.

If you have a tip for investigators, NOAA’s hotline is 800-853-1964. If you see a dead marine mammal offshore, or one that’s alive or dead on the shore, report it to Seal Sitters at 206-905-SEAL.

SeattlePI reporter Zosha Millman can be reached at Follow Zosha on Twitter at @zosham. Find more from Zosha here on her author page.

Family of girl snatched by sea lion lambasted for ‘reckless behavior’

“You wouldn’t go up to a grizzly bear in the bush and hand him a ham sandwich,” said an official suburban Vancouver’s Steveston Harbour, where the now-famous incident occurred over the weekend.

The terrifying video of a sea lion snatching a little girl off the edge of a dock and yanking her into murky British Columbia seawater last week is buzzing across the internet and social media today — and drawing some critical insights.

Michael Fujiwara, a college student from Vancouver, B.C., captured the video Saturday at the Steveston Fisherman’s Wharf in the Vancouver suburb of Richmond. It shows the large male sea lion suddenly lurching and pulling the girl into the water, with a man jumping in after the child to save her. There reportedly were no injuries.

Robert Kiesman, chair of the Steveston Harbour Authority, lambasted the girl’s family for reckless behavior, telling the CBC News that signs posted at the popular tourist destination warn people not to feed the sea mammals that frequent the area.

“You wouldn’t go up to a grizzly bear in the bush and hand him a ham sandwich, so you shouldn’t be handing a thousand-pound wild mammal in the water slices of bread,” Kiesman said.

“And you certainly shouldn’t be letting your little girl sit on the edge of the dock with her dress hanging down after the sea lion has already snapped at her once. Just totally reckless behavior.”

Danielle Hyson, a senior marine-mammal trainer at the Vancouver Aquarium, explained to The Vancouver Sun that the animal forewarned of his aggressive behavior.

“You saw him kind of initially lunge out of the water and give a little huff. That’s what we would call an aggressive precursor,” she told The Sun. “So he’s letting the people know that he’s starting to get frustrated. And in that situation, the people should have backed off right away.”

Hyson noted that male California sea lions are powerful animals that can weigh more than 200 kilograms — about 440 pounds.

The powerful animals have big eyes and whiskers that seem cute, she noted.

“They look like they’re water dogs, but they absolutely are not,” Hyson said. “They can do a lot of damage.”

Fujiwara, the college student who shot the video, said in a story carried by NBC News the girl and her family were dumbstruck by the attack.

“They were pretty shaken up,” he said. “Her family were just in shock.”

The family had been feeding the sea lion breadcrumbs, which is probably what attracted the animal to the crowd, Fujiwara said.

“It initially jumped up to the girl to read her, I guess,” he said. “And then it came back up a second time, but this time grabbing the girl by the waist and dragging her down into the water.”

In Washington, the state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife does not keep records on sea-lion attacks, department spokesman Craig Bartlett said in an email Monday.

Sea lions typically only bite when they feel threatened or cornered, according to various news reports. They sometimes also go after the same fish people do, resulting in close encounters.

“I’ve seen reports of sea lions stealing fish from anglers on the Columbia River, but I can’t recall anyone actually being injured,” Bartlett said.

While he knew of no known attacks of people in Washington, Bartlett pointed to a 2013 news report about sea lions that have attacked and eaten dogs at Westport.

But commercial and sports fishermen occasionally have reported attacks by sea lions and seals.

A sea lion caught in a Russian commercial fishing vessel’s net was videotaped tossing a fisherman across the boat deck.

In January, an Alaska fisherman was attacked by a Steller sea lion “heavier than a grand piano” when it jumped onto his fishing boat, slammed him into the deck and tried to drag him into the water, according to the Alaska Dispatch News.

And in 2015, a sea lion bit onto the hand of a sport fisherman as he posed with a yellowfin tuna on his boat off San Diego, pulling the man overboard.

“After 15 seconds, I thought I was going to die,” Dan Carlin, the fisherman, later said in an interview with The Associated Press. “I continued to struggle, but thought this is the way I was going to die. It was unbelievable to me.”

But deadly attacks by seals or seal lions are apparently rare.

The fatal attack of a British scientist snorkeling in Antarctica in 2003 was believed to be the first deadly leopard-seal attack on a human at the time, according to National Geographic.

On Monday, tourists and the curious crowded on to Steveston Fisherman’s Wharf to catch a glimpse of the child-snatching sea lion despite warnings to keep a safe distance.

Video shows sea lion drag girl into water near Vancouver, B.C.

(Screenshot of video Michael Fujiwara/CBC)


RICHMOND, British Columbia (AP) — A college student has startling video of a sea lion snatching a girl off a dock and yanking her into the water on Canada’s West Coast.

It happened Saturday in Richmond, a Vancouver suburb. University student Michael Fujiwara tells CBC News that some people started feeding the animal breadcrumbs.

In Fujiwara’s video, the sea lion pops up toward the girl as bystanders laugh. Then she sits by the pier’s edge. In an instant, the massive mammal shoots up, grabs her dress and pulls her into the water as people scream.

The sea lion disappears as a man plunges into the water and helps the girl out. She doesn’t appear injured and walks away with adults.

Marine mammal expert Andrew Trites says the sea lion presumably thought the dress was food.

Sea Lion Act at Fair Faces Opposition

By Haven Orecchio-Egresitz

Posted Jul. 19, 2016 at 9:29 PM
Updated Jul 20, 2016 at 7:01 AM

FALMOUTH — A traveling sea lion exhibit currently featured at the Barnstable County Fair was cited in May by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for violating the federal Animal Welfare Act, raising concerns among animal welfare advocates and scholars who are calling for fair organizers to stop the show.“It just completely goes against the basic nature of what animals need,” said Laura Hagen, deputy director of advocacy for the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. “The USDA standards are very basic survival standards. The bar is very, very low.”But fair organizers and the company that puts on the sea lion show say the problems cited by the USDA were either fixed or never existed.Video: Trainers lead Sea Lion Splash show at county fairAt the time of a routine inspection in May, Squalus Inc.’s Sea Lion Splash show was performing at Heritage Park in Simpsonville, South Carolina, according to a federal inspection report.FederalinfractionsLisa Macelderry, a veterinarian inspecting the exhibit, noted that the five sea lions were kept in a pool 41 square feet smaller than required by law and three of them had painful eye conditions. There were no records of the animals receiving required semiannual care and at the time of the inspection, three animals — Zoey, Lily, and Kitty — were squinting or keeping an eye closed.Photos: Sea lion show at Barnstable fair“These are signs of obvious discomfort and painful eye conditions,” Macelderry wrote in the report. “During most of this inspection, Zoey (13 year old California sea lion) was holding her right eye closed. There is no record of any veterinary consultation or initiation of medical treatment.”There was a record of a veterinarian visit in February, in which the doctor noted titers of Leptospirosis in both Zoey and Kitty and recommended further testing. There is no indication there were follow-up diagnostics, according to the inspection report.The USDA found the two caretakers in the travel exhibit were not adequately trained in animal welfare as they didn’t recognize or report the eye conditions, kept incomplete medical records and were treating the water with chemicals without using measured amounts, according to the report. Both employees had bite or slash marks on their arms from the animals, according to the report.The problems cited in the May inspection report were rectified before Barnstable County Fair organizers allowed the group to perform this year, according to Craig Orsi, a spokesman for the fair.“The Barnstable County Fair only allows acts on its grounds that carry all relevant federal, state and local certifications,” said Wendy Brown, general manager of the Barnstable County Fair, in a statement.Marco Peters, who owns Squalus Inc., said the health concerns mentioned in the inspection report were unfounded, but the caretakers were “completely retrained,” after the inspection.“A lot of the things with the eye problems were not correct from the inspector,” Peters said. “We had a marine ophthalmologist come in the next week and none of the animals needed any medication.”Another USDA inspection of Squalus conducted in Louisville, Kentucky, in June resulted in no citations.Brooke Aldrich, who lives part of the year in Falmouth, grew up attending the fair and described it as a “big part” of her childhood. In 2013, Aldrich, now a primatologist and specialist in animal welfare, wanted to return to the fair, but before she did she wanted to make sure the captive animal exhibits had been phased out.To her surprise, they weren’t.That year the fair featured an act called “The Amazing Rainforest Experience,” which included a tiger that looked emaciated and several monkeys, according to Aldrich. Aldrich wrote her first letter to fair organizers that year asking them to reconsider the animal exhibit. She also wrote to Falmouth selectmen, but her concerns “fell on deaf ears,” she said. In 2014, she wrote them again about a lemur exhibit and again no action was taken, she said.Her main concern with the citations from May is that the sea lions may have had Leptospirosis, which can be transmitted to humans, Aldrich said. After the shows, members of the audience are allowed to come up to the sea lions and pose for photographs with the animals giving them a kiss on their cheek.Without treatment, Leptospirosis can lead to kidney damage, meningitis, liver failure, respiratory distress and even death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals — better known as PETA — has also raised concerns about the traveling show and issued an alert urging people to not support the fair, according to Brittany Peet, an attorney and the director of Captive Animal Law Enforcement at PETA Foundation.While PETA has been looking into Squalus for the past two years because of USDA violations, their interest peaked when a former employee recently reached out the group claiming to have routinely witnessed animal abuse and neglect, Peet said.The witness claimed the owners of Sea Lion Splash regularly struck sea lions with poles and pipes during training sessions and, on one occasion, left six sea lions in a single tank for three days during transport without feeding the animals or changing their water, Peet said.Sea lion trainer Ian Fuller, who led the 4:40 p.m. show with his partner, Marisol Martinez, on Tuesday, disputed the claims made by PETA and said that all of the sea lions, which travel from city to city in an indoor pool, are well cared for and are trained only through positive reinforcement.“They’re like our dogs,” Fuller said after the show, adding that sea lions live longer in captivity than in the wild. “It’s the best job in the world.”The alleged whistleblower who claimed abuse to PETA has not reached out to the MSPCA, according to Hagen, who said the group just recently became involved and is working with local advocates to urge fair organizers not to host captive animal exhibits.Cambridge, Plymouth, Somerville, Weymouth, Quincy, Revere, Braintree and Provincetown have all banned the display of exotic animals in circuses, she said.In towns where the exhibits are allowed, the MSPCA is limited in how it can respond because the shows are licensed through the USDA, which must enforce the federal regulations, she said. A warrant is required to inspect the venue specifically for animal cruelty, Hagen said.The USDA enforces the Animal Welfare Act through unannounced inspections, said R. Andre Bell, a spokesman for the agency. There is no open investigation into Squalus Inc., Bell said.“If the noncompliance items cited on an inspection report are of a serious enough nature, the agency will begin an investigation into the matter,” Bell said. “If that investigation determines that Animal Welfare Act violations did occur, the agency will issue an enforcement/penalty action.”But a vast majority of citations don’t result in enforcement, said Delcianna Winders, an Academic Fellow of Animal Law & Policy Program at Harvard Law School who studies USDA enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act.

A December 2014 audit of the USDA by the Office of Inspector General found that penalties issued in 2012 were reduced by 86 percent from the law’s maximum penalty even though the cases resulted in death and other egregious violations, according to the report. For every $10,000 penalty, violators pay about $1,400 dollars in fines, Winders said.

“This is a longstanding issue that the Office of Inspector General has raised multiple times in the past. Unfortunately, even since this most recent audit, my analysis has shown that penalties continue to be steeply discounted,” Winders said. “The problem is aggravated by the fact that the agency insists on keeping the penalty worksheets secret.”

Peters, of Squalus Inc., said Tuesday he has received no penalties for the May citations.

— Follow Haven Orecchio-Egresitz on Twitter: @HavenCCT.

Starving sea lion pups likely to begin washing up on beaches soon

There was a sick, starving or injured sea lion on the beach, right off the Ocean Park, WA approach. She was able to raise up whenever a driver would stop and hassle her, but she couldn’t get back to the surf and away from the hundreds of clam diggers who were driving right past her.

Hopefully someone won’t run her over, as happened (purposely, maliciously) to a seal and her newborn pup last year on that same stretch of beach. This sea lion was either wounded by having been shot (likely by one of the crabbers or fishermen in boats offshore), or she had a buildup of domoic acid from the red tide that’s still around and is directly linked to warmer ocean temperatures and a resultant massive toxic algae bloom off the Pacific Northwest coast.



December 30 2015

Malnourished and dying California sea lion pups are likely to be seen again in high numbers on California beaches this winter and spring.  Scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have been monitoring sea lion rookeries on the Channel Islands and have found the lowest weights in pups in 41 years of recorded history.

“We’re preparing for higher than normal numbers, because the information that’s coming from the islands, from the scientists, are saying that the pups are the smallest that they’ve really ever been,” said Justin Viezbicke, stranding coordinator for the National Marine Fisheries Service in California.

Since January 2013, starving California sea lion pups have been washing up on beaches at alarmingly high numbers. The cause is believed to be a wide swath of abnormally warm water that has depressed the number of sardines in typical hunting areas. Sardines are important food sources for nursing mothers.

A screenshot of a NOAA Fisheries website shows the number of stranded California sea lions has increased in recent years.
A screenshot of a NOAA Fisheries website shows the number of stranded California sea lions has increased in recent years. NOAA Fisheries


Viezbicke said strandings on the mainland could be high, because many pups are continuing to survive in the rookeries. When they leave, they’re not able to forage successfully and end up washing ashore on mainland beaches. Those strandings could begin occurring in late December and early January.

“If that’s similar to what we were having last year, where the pups are good enough to get off the island but not overall healthy enough to last within the system that they’ve got because of their situation, then we’re anticipating seeing higher than normal strandings again this year,” Viezbicke said.

The “blob” of warm water that has extended for thousands of miles into the Pacific Ocean from the West Coast has cooled in recent months. That would normally be a good sign for returning sardines. However, Nate Mantua, a research scientist with NOAA Fisheries, said the strong El Niño is likely to warm up the water near the coast again.

“It’s expected to have stronger and stronger influences on ocean currents and weather patterns off the West coast that are likely to keep it really warm for the next few months,” Mantua said. “That means that the marine food webs are still going to be disrupted near shore and really around those rookeries.”

Additional factors could complicate the care of sea lions. Another unusual mortality event has been declared for Guadalupe fur seals, a threatened species of seal that began stranding in abnormally higher numbers last January. Viezbicke said the protected status of the fur seal requires more space and isolation for animals receiving care. That could reduce the capacity facilities have to care for California sea lion pups.

“It’s a little bit more challenging space-wise, when you add other species,” Viezbicke said.

Adding to that challenge is the lingering domoic acid in ocean waters after a record toxic algal bloom that stretched from Southern California up into Alaska. The neurotoxins dumped into the water from the bloom can persist for months and concentrate in the flesh and viscera of shellfish.

Viezbicke said adult sea lions and fur seals needing treatment could further complicate care, since pups cannot be safely housed with adults.

Despite the multiple consecutive seasons of strain on young California sea lions and the subsequent low survivorship, scientists said the overall population remains healthy at around 300,000 individuals.

“At this time, the health of that population remains really good and really strong and much better than it was just a few decades ago,” Mantua said.

Viezbicke said scientists will continue monitoring the population in coming years.

“If it keeps happening, there will be concerns, but with a robust population of 300,000 animals, the reality is that it’s not a population concern at this point, but it’s something that we’re definitely keeping an eye on,” Viezbicke said.

Despite the overall wellbeing of California sea lions, the sight of starving sea lion pups will be difficult for many beachgoers. People who do encounter sea lions or fur seals they believe are suffering should not approach the animals but should contact the Marine Mammal Stranding Network at 1-866-767-6114.

Viezbicke said even so, the public should be aware that with the limited capacity to help the animals, many will not be able to receive care.

“You really want to temper the public’s expectations in those scenarios, because we understand that there’s concern, but the reality is we can only take so many animals in. And that’s really for the better of those animals that are currently in the facilities,” Viezbicke said. “It’s more of a quality thing.”

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