Dozens of dead sea lions wash up on British Columbian shorelines every year, many transported by strong pacific currents.
So, what made the discovery of one on Wednesday (March 10) by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans any different? It was lying on a beach in South Delta with a severed head.
Though it is not clear when or how the sea lion was decapitated, officers attended the area of Boundary Bay for observation purposes.
Delta officials are responsible for the removal of the carcass, according to DFO spokesperson Leri Davies.
“Typically, animals are washed up intact, however from time to time individuals tamper with the animals once beached,” Davies told Black Press Media in an email.
If the mammal was decapitated post-mortem, the person or persons responsible committed a serious crime, she said.
Marine Mammals Regulations and the Fisheries Act make it illegal to “disturb” sea lions. This includes interference whether they are dead or alive.
Thomas Sewid of the Vancouver Island Kwakwaka’wakw Nation, a long-time commercial fisherman, thinks he knows the reason someone cut off the mammal’s head and others like it.
“Sea lion skulls are a commodity,” he told Black Press Media. “Since it’s not legal, there’s a big supply for them – among all other pinniped parts the biggest market is for skulls.”
Decapitated sea lions have been documented on beaches in Nanaimo, Lantzville and Comox.
As a tour guide, Sewid – who lives in Campbell River – has received hundreds of emails from Canadians in search of sea lion skulls they can purchase.
A male steller skull can sell for up to $4,000 in the underground market, he said.
Indigenous communities like Sewid’s are permitted to harvest sea lions for food and ceremonial purposes, but only in limited quantities.
“We want to utilize the full mammal and restore balance to the ecosystem,” he said of First Nations hunters.
Peoples make use of the large mammal’s meat, blubber, organs, pelt and even its whiskers.
Sewid is pushing the federal government to loosen restrictions on the commercial sale of sea lions so that Indigenous communities along B.C.’s coast can sell them and make a profit.
“It would sure help us make a living,” said Sewid.
DFO asks British Columbians to report violations against ocean mammals at 1-800-465-4336.
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