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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Things you see when you don’t have a camera

A trip to town yesterday was pretty amazing, wildlife-wise. Unfortunately I didn’t bring my camera. From the north side of the Astoria bridge we saw the humpback whale who’s been seen hanging out around in the lower Colombia River for a few days.

Then, after visiting the sea lions who reside on the East Moring Basin docks, we went to Hammond, by to Fort Stevens State Park, and watched a friendly herd of elk close up in a scene reminiscent of Mammoth Village in Yellowstone National Park. 

For a grand finale, we stopped to walk the dog at the “Dismal Niche”* rest area (*a name indicative of Lewis and Clark’s lack of appreciation of the area),  and saw a group of around 30 harbor seals just offshore in a channel of river. They were treading water, popping up and going under, probably looking for fish though we never saw them catch any). Perhaps they were just enjoying the gentle current in the eddy they found there. 

Text and Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson, 2015. All Rights Reserved

Text and Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson, 2015. All Rights Reserved

Toxic Algal Bloom Causes Another Sea Lion Crisis

Latest News
Sea Lion

California sea lions are having a tough year. As you know, starving sea lion pups were stranding along the California coast in record numbers earlier this year. Now, sea lions are facing another crisis: a dangerous neurotoxin called domoic acid.

Researchers say the massive algal bloom producing this toxin is the biggest and most toxic they’ve ever seen, extending from southern California all the way up to Alaska. And it’s leaving sick sea lions in its wake. About three-quarters of our current sea lion patients are suffering from the effects of this toxin, including lethargy, disorientation and seizures.

Since discovering this condition in sea lions in 1998, our researchers have learned a lot about domoic acid toxicity and how to treat it effectively. Thanks to support from people like you, we’ve been able to successfully release hundreds of healthy patients over the years that had stranded due to this toxin.

Toxic Algal Bloom Causes Another Sea Lion Crisis
Sea Lion

California sea lions are having a tough year. As you know, starving sea lion pups were stranding along the California coast in record numbers earlier this year. Now, sea lions are facing another crisis: a dangerous neurotoxin called domoic acid.

Researchers say the massive algal bloom producing this toxin is the biggest and most toxic they’ve ever seen, extending from southern California all the way up to Alaska. And it’s leaving sick sea lions in its wake. About three-quarters of our current sea lion patients are suffering from the effects of this toxin, including lethargy, disorientation and seizures.

Since discovering this condition in sea lions in 1998, our researchers have learned a lot about domoic acid toxicity and how to treat it effectively. Thanks to support from people like you, we’ve been able to successfully release hundreds of healthy patients over the years that had stranded due to this toxin.

Group ups reward for information on June sea lion killings

Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson

Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson

— A Cordova group has raised the government reward offered for information on those responsible for killing at least half a dozen Steller sea lions near the fishing community last month.

KTUU-TV reports ( ) that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Thursday the reward is now $7,500 after Cordova District Fisherman United added $5,000 to NOAA’s original $2,500 reward for help solving the case of the sea lions.

The sea lions were found on a Cordova-area beach June 1. NOAA officials say biologists examined the dead animals and determined they were intentionally killed.

The western United States population of Steller sea lions is protected under the Endangered Species Act, with harassing, harming or killing them banned except in extremely limited situations.

Massive algae bloom causing seizures in sea lions

Alison Morrow 6:51 a.m. PDT June 17, 2015

In recent video from Long Beach, a sea lion does something researchers have never seen before on Washington’s coast.

“A sea lion with his head arched back, he’s basically having seizures,” said NOAA Fisheries Research Oceanographer Vera Trainer.

The reason for the seizure is in a laboratory refrigerator at NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle.

It’s an algae called pseudo-nitzschia, and while each cell is microscopic, millions together on Washington’s are massively destructive.

“We’re seeing effects on marine ecosystem we haven’t seen before,” Trainer said.

The algal bloom is unprecedented in size. It extends from southern California to Alaska. Though invisible, it produces a toxin called domoic acid.

The toxin has already closed crab and razor clam fisheries. Now, its effects are spreading to mammals.

“I think it’s scary,” Trainer said. “When we see marine mammals suffering from these toxins, they’re not that far in the food chain from us.”

NOAA fisheries scientists have deployed to study it. They’re joining other researches to trace where the toxic cells are, just how toxic they are, and what’s feeding their growth.

They believe “the blob” is partially to blame, a large expanse of warmer water off the coast.

With the information, they suspect they may not be able to stop the algae, but learn how to live with it.

“But we’re able to figure out how to live with them,” Trainer said. “This is just one animal found on the beach. You wonder what animals that aren’t on the beaches, what’s happening to them.”

NOAA investigates Steller sea lion deaths near Cordova

(L-R) Kate Savage (NOAA), Noah Meisenheimer (NOAA), Lt. Matthew Keiper (US Coast Guard), and Sadie Wright (NOAA) collect samples from a dead Steller sea lion near Cordova, Alaska. (Photo courtesy NOAA)

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is investigating the deaths of several Steller sea lions southwest of Cordova.

Julie Speegle, spokesperson for NOAA Fisheries, Alaska region, says 15 dead sea lions were discovered in the area on June 1.

“Three to five of them had wounds that our biologists could definitely say were human-caused wounds,” Speegle said. “So that indicates that these Steller sea lions had been deliberately killed.”

Killing sea lions violates the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which only allows limited exceptions for subsistence hunting by Alaska Natives

These particular animals were from the western stock of Steller sea lions, which are also listed under the Endangered Species Act.

NOAA law enforcement is looking for information from anyone with details about the event…and are offering an award up to $2,500 dollars for information leading to a conviction.