Sea Lion Rescue
After surviving gunshot wounds, sea lion is blind but safe
Monday, January 3, 2011
A sea lion that was rescued near Sausalito on Dec. 8 is in stable condition at the Marine Mammal Center, where the 330-pound adult male has started eating fish and vocalizing, says Jim Oswald, communications manager for the Center. The sea lion, dubbed "White Knight" by rescuers, was shot in the head and at least 7 metal fragments have been identified in his head. One blew out his right eye, and another damaged the optic nerves of his left, leaving White Knight permanently blinded. The sea lion will never return to the wild. “It’s just not humane to put him back out into the wild ocean and expect him to be able to forage and to fend for himself,” says Oswald.
The Marine Mammal Center rescues about one thousand marine mammals per year, one to two percent of which are hurt as a result of shootings. Since 1992, when the Center began tracking such figures, 460 marine mammals with gunshot wounds have been rescued along 600 miles of California's northern and central coast. Of these, 38 percent were rescued from Monterey County shoreline. Monterey County is also home to the highest proportion of sea lions, the species that accounts for the vast majority of marine mammal shootings.
Oswald says the shootings, which are usually perpetrated by fishermen or boaters, are a manfestation of the " age-old competition for fish," with the fish-eating mammals numbering up to 300,000 off the California coast.
Harming or harassing marine mammals is illegal under the 1972 marine mammal protection act. The National Marine Fisheries Service Office, with the Department of Fish and Game, can choose to press charges for shooting marine mammals, but such cases are hard to prosecute without a witness, according to Oswald. In October, the Sutter County District Attorney announced a criminal conviction in a sea lion shooting case. Larry Legans was convicted of intentionally wounding an animal and was sentenced to 30 days in jail, 5 years of probation, and was required to pay more than $50,000 toward the expense of treating the injured sea lion.
White Knight will need a new, permanent home within the next six months, since the Marine Mammal Center is licensed to care for animals only temporarily. “Right now we just want to be able to provide the best medical care for him,” says Oswald. In the mean time, White Knight is popular with visitors, and also has his own facebook page, designed to bring attention to marine mammal safety and protection efforts.