'It’s a big bachelor party': Hundreds of sea lions crowd Cowichan Bay marina
COWICHAN BAY -- You’ll hear them before you see them, and if there’s not much wind you’ll definitely smell them.
Cowichan Bay’s floating breakwater is now a temporary home for sea lions. Hundreds of them are visible daily on the dock, and locals say that’s a fraction of the actual number of sea lions gobbling chum salmon in the area.
“They’re large, stinky; there’s too many of them; they’re rude houseguests,” says Cowichan Bay harbour manager Mark Mercer. “They’re sinking my boats and damaging my breakwater but they’re an incredibly big draw for a lot of people.”
Mercer says several sea lions sunk a sailboat tied to the breakwater last Monday morning.
“You get a 2,000-pound sailboat and when a 2,000-pound sea lion jumps on, and then his buddy gets on, you know which way it’s going to tip.”
At various times throughout the day you can barely see any concrete on the 182-metre breakwater as the mostly male pinnipeds jostle and bark for position.
“It’s a big bachelor party out there,” says Mercer.
Businesses along the town’s historic waterfront are cashing in. Mercer estimates 500 to 600 visitors come each day, with shopping bags and coffee cups in hand.
But commercial anglers on the docks aren’t getting a cut of the profit.
Barry Crow is the president of the Area D Gillnet Association and says his livelihood is in jeopardy because of the sea lions, and says it’s the largest gathering he’s seen yet.
“When one of these guys rips a hole the size of a Volkswagen bug in your net and they do it 10, 15 times a day it's not fun for us at all,” says Crow, who lives just up the road from the breakwater.
The idea of a sea lion cull has been discussed, and fisherman Marvin Jones says he would support a harvest of the animals.
“There's a lot of prime leather for work boots sitting there,” says Jones, who fishes out of Alert Bay.
Jones estimates a large bull will consume between 90 and 140 kilograms of fish per day.
“It’s insane,” he says. “If this continues, there won’t be a fish left in this bay.”
The visitors will continue to flood the town until these barking dock stars depart. In the meantime, there are few quiet moments. “There’s not a lot of sleep around here,” says Jones.
And if it’s a still day down at the docks, Mercer says be prepared for a pungent bouquet. “You go home smelling like them, and your dinner tastes like them.”