Loud, smelly and 'spellbinding' — hundreds of huge sea lions converge on Powell River

Hundreds of sea lions have are sprawled on a beach in Powell River, B.C., drawing crowds to watch the action.

Resident Lesley Armstrong says the large mammals are delighting local families

Nearly 1,000 sea lions, similar to these, have gathered at Second Beach in Powell River on B.C's northern Sunshine Coast. Locals are dropping by to watch the noisy, stinky spectacle. (Racerocks.com)

Hundreds of sea lions have converged on a beach in Powell River, B.C., as photographers and nature lovers arrive to take in the sight. 

Powell River resident Lesley Armstrong says the sea lions started arriving around Christmas and their numbers have been growing to the point where the animals are covering nearly every inch of the barges, beach and breakwater at Second Beach. 

"It's just become the most amazing visual spectacle. And everybody's going down there," Armstrong said over the phone from her home. 

"It's really spellbinding because they're so loud and they're so raucous and they're all playing in the water — those that aren't sleeping and lying on the rocks."

Armstrong says there were up to three dozen cars parked at the beach on Sunday morning to watch the large mammals snuggle up against each other.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans put up a sign warning people not to interact with them, but Armstrong says the sea lions are packed so tightly together that no one could even try to walk among them. 

'I was just amazed'

It's not the first time sea lions have converged in the area at this time of year, Armstrong says, but even long-term residents have never seen them in such great numbers. 

She says some of the sea lions appear to weigh up to a tonne. 

"I stood there with both my dogs on leashes about ten feet from them and they just didn't even care that I was there. I was just amazed," she said.

"When they wake up they bark and bark and bark and it's very social. It's very entertaining."

Armstrong says her loud new neighbours appear to be a mix of Steller and California sea lions. 

Growing populations

According to the Vancouver Aquarium, Steller sea lions are quite common off the coast of B.C. Their populations are slowly growing, having mysteriously dwindled in the past. They remain a species of special concern, according to the Canadian government. 

The Marine Mammal Centre says California sea lions are found as far north as Vancouver Island and as far south as Baja California in Mexico.

The organization's website describes them as "opportunistic eaters" that feed on squid, octopus, herring, rockfish, mackerel and small sharks. Their numbers also appear to be growing.

Some groups say seals and sea lions have been booming in the past few years, to the chagrin of some fishermen who want to start hunting them. 

Advocates of a hunt are also pitching it as a way to help B.C.'s endangered southern resident killer whales, which feed mainly on salmon. 

'You can smell it'

Armstrong says she doesn't think the sea lions will be in Powell River much longer.

That may be a blessing — she says warmer weather in the past few days has led to a rather pungent odour from the huge beasts. 

"You can smell it. It's much more fetid," she said.

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story included a photo of Stellar sea lions. In fact, the majority of sea lions showing up on the Sunshine Coast are California sea lions. The photo has been replaced.
    Jan 14, 2019 2:06 PM PT

About the Author

Maryse Zeidler

@MaryseZeidler

Maryse Zeidler is a reporter for CBC News in Vancouver, covering news from across British Columbia. You can reach her at maryse.zeidler@cbc.ca.

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