The Whatcom Marine Mammal Stranding Network (WMMSN) has determined the cause of death for the large Steller sea lion found at Lily Point was human intervention.
“He was shot,” said principal investigator Victoria Souze.
A local WMMSN responder notified Souze on December 26 the animal’s body was on the beach, though it had likely been there for at least a week. On December 29 the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife brought a WMMSN team from the county to the Point where they joined three recently trained responders.
“We did the necropsy right there on the beach,” Souze said. “We could tell by his teeth that he was old.” He measured 13’ and 10”, and likely weighed 1,000 lbs. A maximum size for a Steller is 14 feet.”
The necropsy found the sea lion had a very thin blubber layer, an empty stomach and was infected with numerous parasites. The team took samples to get more information about what had weakened the animal. “It’s important to monitor what’s going on in our marine life,” Souze said. “They can carry diseases that can be transmitted to humans and dogs,” and are indicators of the state of our oceans.
The head was removed and x-rayed to confirm the animal had been shot. “The bullet will be given to a NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) enforcement officer, where it will be held as evidence,” Souze said. “Steller sea lions are a federally protected marine mammal and they are also endangered. Unfortunately, fishermen consider them a nuisance and competition for fish. They are fully aware that it is illegal to shoot marine mammals, yet they still do it.”
The carcass remains on the beach and, while Souze said it does not pose a public health threat it is both unwise and illegal to disturb it. She expects predators and storms will remove it quickly.
“Obviously, there still needs to be more awareness of who to call when a marine mammal is stranded,” Souze said. The WMMSN hotline number is 360/966-8845. For more information about marine mammals and the network visit the WMMSN website wmmsn.org and “like” its Facebook page: Whatcom Marine Mammal Stranding Network.
Last October Souze held a training for responders on the Point and she will retrain the 30 local responders and any new volunteers in the spring. People interested in the training can call her at 360/758-2068 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.