British Columbia

Don't feed seals, say marine experts

Marine experts are reminding people that seals can be dangerous after a seal pulled a five-year-old girl off a West Vancouver dock Tuesday.
A seal's recent dragging of a young girl off a B.C. dock has not deterred these children from feeding seals in Victoria. ((CBC))
Marine experts are reminding people that seals can be dangerous after a seal pulled a five-year-old girl off a West Vancouver dock Tuesday.

While the sudden biting and dragging of the child surprised many, former Vancouver diving instructor Ernest Burden said he has had many run-ins with harbour seals.

"The seal had my fin in his mouth, and he would pull on me. You could see that the seal has sharp teeth," he said Thursday of one encounter.

Burden taught scuba lessons for 10 years at West Vancouver's Whytecliff Park, and said it is normal for seals to take a diver's hand in their mouth, try to bite their oxygen tank or knock their masks off their faces.

"We keep going into places in the wild where there are bears, and there are cougars, and there are seals and sharks and everything else, and we expect those animals to respect our human boundaries," he said.

This sign at a Victoria dock is clearly readable, but not always followed. ((CBC))
Andrew Trites, director of the University of B.C.'s marine mammal unit, says human-seal encounters are on the rise.

"I think that's the case not just for marinas, but for some of the fishing lodges around the coast. They are reporting problems of having seals hanging out, or sea lions which are much larger and even more mobile. They get up on the docks," he said.

The government has regulations that prohibit people from disturbing marine mammals, but Andrew Thomson with Fisheries and Oceans Canada believes people should stop feeding them too.

"Twenty, forty years ago in Jasper Park, we would get out and feed bears. You still get the occasional tourist who wants to do it, but I think people realize that's not a good practice," Thomson said.

"It'll take a little while to inform the public that feeding marine mammals and disturbing them is not a good practice either."

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