A distressed adult male Steller sea lion that was rescued off a Ucluelet beach and transported to the Vancouver Aquarium’s Marine Mammal Rescue Centre on Thursday night is believed to have suffered at least one gunshot to the head.
“It does look like there’s some pretty serious metal density in his skull, so I have to assume they’re some kind of bullet or pellet, fairly large gauge,” the centre’s head veterinarian Dr. Martin Haulena told the Westerly News on Friday. “I don’t know whether it’s one really large bullet that fragmented into two major pieces, but it certainly looks pretty serious.”
He said the centre’s staff will try to stabilize the sea lion over the weekend with antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medication to help with the pain it is in before taking a closer look at its injuries next week, but added that the animal’s chances of survival do not look promising.
“He’s very lethargic, very weak, he’s been allowing people to come up to him so I have to assume that there’s some pretty serious degree of head trauma,” he said. “Unfortunately, with a big sea lion like that, if he’s letting people approach, it’s usually something pretty serious.”
He added the sea lion may have been blinded.
“Right now, he’s got one eye tightly shut, the other eye’s pupil is dilated and doesn’t appear to be visual at all. He might be a blind sea lion, which is obviously a problem for release,” he said. “We really need to evaluate that other eye and then really see what the degree of injury is from the bullets; where they are, what they’ve hurt, what they’ve damaged and evaluate his quality of life as well as whether he can be releasable or not…I’m a bit worried about him for sure.”
The sea lion was reported to the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre and Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada on Wednesday and a rescue team assembled in Ucluelet to capture it and transport it to the rescue centre Thursday night.
Collecting the sea lion was a tough task as it had beached itself high up a rocky shoreline near Ucluelet’s fuel dock. The rescue team tranquilized the animal and were assisted by local volunteers to carry it to the edge of a cement wall adjacent to the beach where a Windsor Plywood truck and crane then lifted the sea lion onto a transport vehicle to be taken to the rescue centre.
Anyone who spots a marine mammal in distress should never approach the animal, but should instead immediately contact DFO at 1-800-465-4336 or the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre at 604-258-7325.
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