Last week, the team at our Marine Mammal Rescue Centre treated a young harbour seal who had been shot in the face and seriously injured by birdshot.

Under anaesthetic, she was examined by veterinary ophthalmologist Dr. Jacqueline Pearce, of the Vancouver Animal Emergency and Referral Centre, to determine if she has any vision remaining. This information will help determine if she will be releasable once healthy, as she’ll need to see from at least one eye if she is to successfully forage and fend for herself.

She was also treated by veterinary dentist Dr. Loic Legendre, of West Coast Veterinary Dental Services, who removed several of her fractured and damaged teeth.

We’re so grateful to both Dr. Pearce and and Dr. Legendre, who donated their time and expertise to the care of this injured marine mammal.

Named Jessica Seal by the team at the Rescue Centre, she is the fifth animal they have responded to in recent years badly injured by gunshot. Our head vet, Dr. Martin Haulena, is concerned these types of injuries may become more common if a campaign by fishers to cull seals and sea lions gains ground. Although the campaign wrongly cites an “explosion” in the seal population as a reason for declining salmon numbers, the PR war on pinnipeds might be having an impact.

“The person who did this would have known they wouldn’t kill her with birdshot. It was intended to hurt her, and it did,” said Haulena. “The conflict on the water between humans and seals is not new — they want some of the same fish. I do worry people now feel more comfortable taking aim because they’ve been hearing seals are the bad guys, and they’re not.”

Indeed, according to scientists who study the food web in the Salish Sea, there is no “population explosion” of seals. “The population of harbour seals has been holding steady — at about 110,000 animals — since the ‘90s,” said Dr. Peter Ross, vice-president of research at Ocean Wise. He added that seals were almost wiped out in B.C. in the 20th century. “From 1879-1968, about half a million seals were killed in B.C. for the commercial fur trade and for predator control. What we’re seeing now is a recovered population holding steady at its historic size.”

A cull of seals and sea lions is not likely to do anything to improve salmon stocks, said Ross. “Declining salmon abundance is the result of a complex variety of factors, and is not the result of predation by pinnipeds.” He said factors include warming ocean and freshwater temperatures, destruction and alteration of stream and estuary habitats, pollution, and predation by birds, whales, dolphins, seals, sea lions, and humans. “Predator control measures rarely work, and often have unintended negative consequences.”

If you see a marine mammal that you believe is in distress: stay back, keep people and pets away, call the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre at 604-258-SEAL (7325), or the DFO hotline at 1-800-465-4336.

Donate here to support the care of Jessica Seal and other animals at our Marine Mammal Rescue Centre.

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