The Vancouver Aquarium’s Marine Mammal Rescue Centre is treating yet another seal with shotgun wounds to its face.
The female harbour seal, dubbed ‘Jessica Seal,’ is believed to be less than a year old, and was found emaciated and lethargic on Kitsilano Beach on Feb. 18.
The aquarium says she had 23 birdshot pellets in her face, which had already begun to heal — suggesting the wound was sustained several weeks prior.
“I can tell you that she’s been suffering for several weeks, and we don’t know if she’s going to recover her eyesight enough to be released,” said Vancouver Aquarium head veterinarian Dr. Martin Haulena.
Vets worked Friday to remove some damaged teeth and to try and determine how much vision the seal still has.
Haulena said the aquarium believes the seal and others that have recently been shot are the victims of a “PR war” asserting that the region’s pinniped population (the animal family including seals, sea lions and walruses) has surged recently, a claim the aquarium says is incorrect.
“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.
“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.”
That status of the region’s seal and sea lion population is disputed, however, by the Pacific Balance Pinniped Society, a group of First Nations and commercial fishers who want to see a commercial seal hunt on the coast.
The group asserts that the population of pinnipeds has “exploded” in the last four decades, putting species such as salmon and orcas at risk.
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According to the DFO, the current harbour seal population on the coast is about 10 times what it was in the early 1970s.
But the aquarium says it does not believe a seal cull will do anything to help salmon stocks recover.
“Declining salmon abundance is the result of a complex variety of factors, and is not the result of predation by pinnipeds,” said Ross. “Predator control measures rarely work, and often have unintended negative consequences.”
Jessica Seal is the fifth seal to be treated for gunshots at the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre in recent years.