Moulting seal frequently harassed, taunted on Victoria beach: DFO
A seal undergoing a long and painful moulting process on a Victoria beach has been subjected to "an unacceptable level of harassment" by beachgoers, fisheries officials say.
The juvenile female elephant seal first appeared on Gonzales Beach two weeks ago as it began the month-long moulting process, which causes the animals to appear sickly or distressed as they shed their fur and underlying layer of skin.
Officials with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans put up caution tape and signs around the animal warning the public to leave it alone – but it seems not everyone is paying attention.
"Unfortunately, this is a really busy beach and we've had people getting too close and disturbing the marine mammal," said fisheries officer Mandy Ledlow.
Those incidents include large crowds standing within a foot of the seal, despite signs warning them to keep a distance of at least 100 metres.
In one case, children got too close to the animal while flapping their arms and barking at it, and when someone asked them to stop, their parents became aggressive, the DFO said.
Even as CTV News spoke with Ledlow on Gonzales Beach, a man identifying himself as an area resident walked through the cordoned-off area and ducked under caution tape right near the fisheries officer.
"Sir, you need to stay outside of the caution tape, and if you don't it's arrestable," she told the man.
During the same interview, an unleashed dog ran under the tape and came within metres of the moulting seal, prompting Ledlow to ask its owners to move down the beach and keep a closer watch on their dog.
She said those who disregard the warnings do so at their own risk – and the seal's.
"This animal is not feeding at all for 30 days or longer," said Ledlow. "That animal is having no caloric intake, and any extra caloric expenditure puts this animal's life at risk, so if you're bothering it, it's expending energy and that energy is needed to stay alive."
While the juvenile seal may look slow and harmless, it's capable of moving quickly and could bite if it feels threatened.
Kerri Ward, one of eight volunteers helping DFO by moving the caution tape when the seal moves and monitoring for any disturbances says it's not just humans who have been a problem.
"A lot of people aren't respecting the distance and dogs are a problem as well," she said.
Ward said many people have been travelling to the beach specifically to see the seal, but they should know there's not much to see.
"She's just a small very juvenile seal, so if you're expecting to see a giant elephant seal it's probably not worth your while to come down and have a look," she said. "You're better off going to Oak Bay Marina or the Inner Harbour."
The seal is expected to be on the beach for at least two more weeks as it continues to moult. Vancouver's Marine Mammal Rescue Centre is also monitoring the health of the animal.
Anyone who sees a marine mammal that's abandoned, injured or being harassed is asked to report it to the BC Marine Mammal Response Network at 1-800-465-4336.