WARNING: Article contains images that may be disturbing to some readers
A Nanaimo, B.C., woman is calling for a thorough investigation after a number of sea lions were found decapitated on the eastern shores of Vancouver Island.
Deborah Short says between March 20 and June 10 she located five sea lion carcasses herself, all of them with their heads removed.
“I took photographs, I investigated a little bit closer,” she said.
“It definitely appeared like it had been a pretty clean sever that had been deliberately done.
“I was completely and utterly devastated, shocked. I couldn’t believe that I was even looking at something of that nature.”
Short said since raising the issue online, she has heard from others who have discovered the same thing, with carcasses turning up between Nanaimo and Campbell River.
Short said she sent the photos to Fisheries and Oceans Canada and wants to see a necropsy done on the animals.
“To date, I don’t know if that has been done or not,” she said.
Tom Sewid, president of Pacific Balance Marine Management, a First-Nations led organization campaigning for a legal commercial seal hunt, said he believes poachers are responsible for the carcasses.
Sewid said sea lions skulls can fetch more than $1,000, but because there is no legal avenue to buy them, they have become an attractive target for the black market.
“I don’t think it’s a First Nation because the First Nations would take the hides for the drums, and would also remove the penile bone of the males, which they haven’t done,” he said.
“It’s probably the same people that are harvesting bear paws and just leaving the carcasses, as we’ve been seeing in the newspapers lately.”
Sewid acknowledged that there are commercial fishers on the coast who are frustrated with sea lions but also doesn’t believe they are connected.
“I would suspect there’s a few people squeezing triggers and getting their frustrations out by killing seals and sea lions,” he said. “But those would be ones that would bloat the float and wash up with their heads intact.”
Global News asked Fisheries and Oceans Canada how many decapitated sea lions had been reported and whether it was investigating.
In a statement, the agency said it has seen a “slight increase” in reports of dead sea lions on Vancouver Island, “however, this is a fairly common occurrence.”
Fisheries and Oceans said tampering with a beached animal in an effort to hide evidence would be a criminal offence.
It said it is also closely monitoring “pinniped-related social media activities.”
Pinnipeds are the family of animals that include seals and sea lions.
A debate about the pinniped population has been raging for several years on B.C.’s coast, with many fishers arguing the number of animals has exploded, putting added pressure on dwindling salmon stock.
However, researchers have argued that while pinniped numbers have climbed in recent decades, they have actually been returning to a historical average after decades of government-sponsored culling in the mid 20th century.