It’s an annual spectacle, the massive sea lions making their way to Cowichan Bay to feast on spawning salmon and bask in the sunlight on the marina’s breakwater.
Scores of residents and visitors alike take to the fishing wharf in the Bay to witness the smelly creatures lounging and barking. But it’s not all copacetic, resident Cheryl Trudell reports.
“On Friday, there was a gentleman patrolling on foot. On Sunday he was standing in a small boat, paddling directly towards a Stellar in the water,” she told the Citizen in a letter last month. “He was clearing the dock of sea lions, causing them to jump back into the Bay. Intrigued by the man’s determination and perseverance, a question arose: Why? It appeared he was protecting a larger boat tied there.”
Trudell said it was “disconcerting to see wildlife being harassed, prevented from taking rest. Sea lions do require time outside the water to regulate their body temperature, too.”
In a follow-up, Trudell said that while she does understand that the sheer size of the massive creatures could damage a vessel and boat owners ought not to feel harassed by sea lions either, she wonders how the two could co-exist.
“At the hotel they give out ear plugs to their guests during sea lion time. Talk about co-existence strategies,” she said.
But it doesn’t seem to be as friendly with the fishing community.
“I don’t want sea lions to damage boats. I do think having a discussion could bring a win-win for everyone — except the fishermen (people),” she said. “It seems they have a huge dislike of sea lions.”
Trudell went on to say she’s heard other accounts of boaters harassing sea lions, in particular one in which people watched from shore as a boat operator deliberately powered through a group of sea lions.
“Again: Why? No answer could possibly justify this behaviour or elicit compassion for boat owners,” she said.
Trudell wonders what a mutually beneficial solution could be — be it an alternate place for owners to moor their boats during the sea lion months or a more sea lion-friendly refuge be constructed closer to Hecate Park.
“I for one, respect the contribution marine mammals bring to life on this planet and specifically to the Cowichan Valley,” she said. “I know I would miss them if they are forced out of the area due to parking and barking concerns. I am not OK with them being displaced from the wharf physically by a dedicated sea lion security guard. Most certainly, I am not OK with the abhorrent behaviour of people causing them injury with motor blades.”
BC Conservation Officer Service’s South Island Sgt. Scott Norris said he knows the animals make quite an impact on those in the Bay but his department doesn’t have much to do with them.
“They’re marine mammals so the DFO deals with them,” he said.
DFO spokesperson Laura Sloan said fishery officers did get reports of an injured Sea Lion in Cowichan Bay and attended with the Vancouver Aquarium Wildlife Rescue Team.
“We were unable to locate it but did perform medical care on sea lions at Race Rocks on the same patrol,” Sloan said. “We have performed a number of patrols to monitor human/sea lion interaction at the docks in Cowichan Bay, but there have been no reports of mistreatment.”
Even so, Trudell is hoping for a better relationship between humans and animals moving forward.
“Surely there is a better solution for all involved. We really should seek to find one,” Trudell said. “If we can’t adapt to sea lions in our midst for a couple of months, then we humans are in big trouble as a species.”