Dead seal found with plastic around neck

Discovery on White Rock’s East Beach a gruesome reminder of litter’s danger to wildlife

Fisheries and Oceans Canada are investigating the death of a harbour seal that was found on White Rock’s East Beach this week with plastic wrapped around its neck.

Discovered late Monday afternoon, the animal had blood coming from its mouth and nose, and apparent head trauma, Pacific marine mammal co-ordinator Paul Cottrell told Peace Arch News Wednesday.

“It’s not clear if the plastic contributed to the death or not, but it definitely was tight on the animal,” Cottrell said. “It seems there’s multiple things going on.

“I noticed there is a significant round hole on the left side back portion of the head of the seal which may be a bullet entry point and might explain the fresh blood. Fishery officers will be involved if we confirm the animal was shot.”

DFO was notified of the carcass late Tuesday. White Rock resident Roger Jendral told PAN he found it around 5 p.m. the day before, not far from the bear statue.

“Its head was kind of lodged in the sand and the seaweed,” Jendral said. “When I pulled it out, it had a plastic bag around it.”

Noting blood had flowed from the carcass within a half hour, Jendral guessed it had died “fairly recently,” but said the wounds did not appear to be malicious.

He had his daughter take photos of the seal – which he noted was the third he’d come across since last Friday. (Cottrell told PAN he was aware of the other two: one was not a recent death, the other a seal pup; the latter is a common occurrence this time of year due to birthing complications.)

City of White Rock staff who responded to this week’s discovery also documented it with photos.

While Cottrell – a South Surrey resident whose expertise in whale disentanglement and other marine issues has often been detailed in PAN – said a closer review of the photos raised doubt in his mind as to the plastic’s role in the seal’s death, it will take a necropsy to know for sure. That, however, won’t be done until next week at the earliest, as veterinary pathologist Dr. Stephen Raverty is on the country’s East Coast investigating the recent deaths of seven rare right whales.

Cottrell said the seal is being stored in the City of White Rock’s animal freezer until the necropsy. It is to be conducted on Raverty’s return, at the provincial Animal Health Centre in Abbotsford, he said.

In the meantime, both Cottrell and Jendral said the seal’s death – whether intentional or otherwise – is a reminder of the importance of putting garbage, and plastics in particular, where it belongs.

“Any plastic debris, to not put it in the ocean,” Cottrell said. “These guys are so susceptible to getting it wrapped around the neck. They’ll check it out and even sometimes ingest it. Anything with a circular opening, they’ll get their head in there.”

Jendral said he often picks up garbage along the city’s waterfront during walks.

Part of the problem, he said, is a lack of garbage cans.

“There’s no garbage cans but there’s a lot, a lot of traffic… constant garbage,” he said. “I find everything from syringes, diapers…

“There’s a lot of debris in the water and unfortunately, the wildlife suffers.”

Cottrell encouraged anyone who comes across an distressed or dead marine animal to immediately report it to DFO’s marine mammal hotline at 1-800-465-4336.