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Natural causes or not?

Species at Risk mammal washes up on shore near Wall Beach
This sea lion washed up near Wall Beach south of Parksville on Oct. 3. A Department of Fisheries and Oceans official who viewed the photo says it’s likely a Stellar sea lion.

A sea lion washed up near Wall Beach south of Parksville on Oct. 3, and the woman who found it has her suspicions about how it got there.

“It has three holes along its side and may have been shot,” said the woman, who did not want to be identified. She sent some photos of the dead mammal to The NEWS, pictures she described as “quite disturbing.”

The sea lion was gone by the morning of Oct. 4, and its not clear who took it away or whether it was carried back to sea by the tide, or claimed by scavenging animals. A federal fisheries spokesperson told The NEWS the removal of carcasses such as these, as long as they are not posing a navigation hazard, are the responsibility of municipalities, or so says the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

The area where the sea lion was found is in the Regional District of Nanaimo. RDN staff said Thursday they do not perform this function.

Paul Cottrell, the Pacific region’s marine mammal co-ordinator for the DFO, had a look at the photos and wasn’t convinced the animal’s death was suspicious.

“The holes are probably due to terrestrial scavengers” like turkey vultures or eagles, he said.  Cottrell couldn’t be absolutely certain from looking at the photos, but he said the animal is likely a Stellar sea lion, a “species of special concern” under the federal Species at Risk Act. The other type of sea lion that inhabits our area, the California sea lion, is not currently listed as a species at risk.

Cottrell said the DFO will react to trends in the deaths of marine mammals, but he said there hasn’t been widespread reports of sea lion deaths in Oceanside.

“We don’t have an unusual situation” currently in this region, he said.

The DFO relies on more than 300 volunteers in the Pacific Region to react to finds like the one at Wall Beach, said Cottrell. These volunteers will attend the scene and collect data for the DFO like measurements, sex and species.

Cottrell urged any members of the public who see a marine mammal that is sick, injured, distressed or dead to immediately call the DFO’s marine mammal incident hotline, 1-800-465-4336.

Section 78 of the Fisheries Act states anyone who is guilty of contravening the Act, including the offense of disturbance to a marine mammal, is subject to a fine of up to $500,000 for for a first offence (if pursued as an indictable offense — $100,000 if pursued as a summary conviction). Subsequent offences could yield an offender up to two years in jail and/or up to $500,000 in fines.