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Off-leash dog harasses baby seal on Vancouver Island beach

Seal retreats to water after being nipped at Wickaninnish Beach
Seal pups like this one are common sights in the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve and dog owners are urged to leash their pets to ensure seals and other wildlife are not disrupted. (Pacific Rim National Park photo)

The Pacific Rim National Park Reserve is reaching out to the public to help identify the owner of an off-leash dog that harassed a baby seal and sent it scuttling back into the ocean.

The incident occurred around noon at Wickaninnish Beach on June 27 and anyone with information on this incident is encouraged to contact Parks Canada at 250-726-3604.

“Video evidence indicates the dog barked, circled and nipped at the seal pup. At the insistence of a bystander, the owners put the dog on-leash. However, the seal pup appears to have been distressed, and it retreated to the ocean,” a Parks Canada spokesperson told the Westerly News via email. “In this case, the seal pup appeared to be physically unharmed, but under stress, as indicated by its retreat down the beach to the ocean’s edge. Stress to wildlife has the potential to cause cascading negative impacts; these may not be visible until after humans have left the scene.”

They added that disturbances like this can stunt a pup’s physical development and deter natural behaviours like nursing or hunting.

“Interference from an off-leash dog also has the potential to result in the pup being abandoned by its mother. Even a temporary separation between the mother and pup may delay feeding, impacting a pup’s health and chances of survival,” they wrote.

Seal pups and their moms are a common sight at the Park Reserve this time of year and visitors are asked to give them and all other wildlife space and respect, noting it is illegal to disturb wildlife under the National Park Wildlife Regulations.

“Seal pupping season occurs during spring and summer, a peak time for boaters and beach goers. Mother seals leave their pups on the beach while they return to the ocean to hunt,” the spokesperson wrote. “This is a natural behaviour. Throughout the day the mother will return to feed the pup occasionally. Their best chance of survival is to be left alone, and stand or walk at least 100m away for a quick glance.”

All dogs must be leashed at all times within the Park Reserve.

“Lone seal pups are vulnerable, and an off-leash dog causes them harm, whether that harm is immediate or through delayed impacts. Keeping dogs on-leash protects these seal pups and the dog itself,” they wrote. “Keeping dogs on-leash also reduces disturbance to sensitive migrating shorebirds, discourages wolf and cougar attacks (and the resulting habituation process that leads to more dangerous predatory behaviours), and respects other park visitors’ experience in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve.”

They noted that the Park Reserve sees over 100,000 dogs visiting with their owners annually with off-leash dogs having the potential impacts of chasing shorebirds to exhaustion, harassing other animals both domestic and wild and are at risk of wolf or cougar attacks.

Parks Canada routinely patrols beaches to educate and inform visitors about the rules and regulations and anyone caught disobeying the laws will face fines.

“In addition to enforcement, Parks Canada continues to work with local residents and visitors to increase education and public awareness of the impact of off-leash dogs on shorebirds and other wildlife,” they said. “Locals are particularly important role models. When dog-owners arrive in the Long Beach Unit, the first sign they look for is typically whether or not other people on the beach/trails have their dogs on-leash. Social norms are powerful – if visitors see your pet on-leash, they are much more likely to leash their pet as well. The seemingly small act of leashing your dog has wide reaching impacts that protect wildlife and the local ecosystem.”

Anyone who spots a seal on the beach is urged to leave it alone and never try to push it back into the water, instead give the animal at least 100 metres of space.

“Many well-meaning people approach marine mammals on the beach under the misconception that they are in danger. This often causes the animal a great deal of stress,” they said.

Anyone who witnesses a seal being harassed should immediately call Parks Canada staff at 250-726-3604.

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Andrew Bailey

About the Author: Andrew Bailey

I arrived at the Westerly News as a reporter and photographer in January 2012.
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