A young harbour seal found suffering from a gunshot wound to the face may lose complete eyesight in one of her eyes, according to veterinarians at the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre.
The pup, who is believed to be less than one year old, was found on Feb. 18 on Kitsilano beach in Vancouver. Officials at the centre said she was emaciated and lethargic, with 23 birdshot pellets embedded in her face. It’s believed she was shot weeks prior to being found.
Dr. Martin Haulena, the aquarium’s head veterinarian, said in a news release Tuesday the seal, who has been named Jessica Seal, is the fifth animal to be found badly injured by gunfire in recent years.
Last month, aquarium veterinarians travelled to Washington State to perform surgery on a pregnant seal shot in the head during a fishing derby.
On Friday, veterinary specialists took a thorough look at Jessica Seal’s injuries to determine how much vision she has left and to remove some of her damaged teeth. Birdshot pellets, usually used in shotguns, are made of either steel or lead inside a shell and scatter outwards when shot.
“We have no way of knowing who did this,” said Haulena. “I can tell you that she’s been suffering for several weeks, and we don’t know if she’s going to recover her eyesight enough to be released.”
Haulena said he’s concerned these types of injuries may become more common if a campaign by fishers to cull seals and sea lions gains ground. The Richmond-based Pacific Balance Pinniped Society has been pressing Fisheries and Oceans Canada to consider a managed Indigenous fishery for seals and sea lions.
“The person who did this would have known they wouldn’t kill her with birdshot. It was intended to hurt her, and it did,” Haulena said.
“The conflict on the water between humans and seals is not new — they want some of the same fish. I do worry people now feel more comfortable taking aim because they’ve been hearing seals are the bad guys, and they’re not.”