Emergency personnel and bystanders joined with Marine Mammal Rescue Centre staff to try to save a stricken steller sea lion found on a beach in north Nanaimo.
The animal was discovered Thursday at about 11 a.m. by a man walking his dog on Invermere Beach, located at the bottom of a steep, high bluff at the end of Invermere Road.
“He came upon a sea lion. He actually almost tripped over him because he didn’t realize he was there,” said Emily Johnson, assistant manager of the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre, based in Vancouver. “He did the right thing and gave us a call.”
Johnson said the man took pictures of the animal and sent them to the centre so staff could identify the species and get some idea of the animal’s behaviour and condition. Upon determining the sea lion needed help, the centre applied for permission from the Department of Fisheries and Ocean to put a response team together to collect the animal and caught a ferry for Nanaimo. The team arrived at the site at about 6 p.m.
“He was definitely not exhibiting any sort of normal behaviour, so we opted to sedate him and sling him and carry him up to the road,” Johnson said. “It was quite an undertaking.”
Access to Invermere Beach is via a set of more than 300 stairs, but the team opted to carry the sea lion – which Johnson estimated weighed between 300 and 350 kilograms – up a trail that runs alongside the stairs, with some help from people in the community.
“It was one of those things where everything sort of came together,” she said. “The community really rallied. Weirdly enough, my husband has a friend [who works for] the City of Nanaimo and there’s a friend who’s an RCMP officer … so we had some muscle to help us get all the way up the road, but … we did it. It was a huge undertaking, for sure. It was definitely the most physical rescue I’ve ever been a part of.”
Johnson said the sea lion was actually underweight. In spite of the Herculean efforts to save the animal, it died not long after it was placed in the transport carrier.
“Sadly, not the outcome we were looking for … but with every response that we go on our team always learns something,” she said.
The sea lion’s body was driven to a pathology lab on the Lower Mainland where a necropsy will be conducted to try to determine the cause of death.
Johnson said there have been more frequent incidents of sea lions having been killed with firearms, but a radiograph conducted Thursday night didn’t reveal any projectiles or foreign bodies in the carcass.
“The strange thing about it is there were no obvious wounds and no injuries that we could see…” she said. “Honestly, I really couldn’t even have a guess for you.”
Johnson said she was impressed with the efforts people in Nanaimo put in to help save the animal.
“What a great little community, though. I could tell everybody was very invested in helping,” she said.