Viral sea lion video is a window into how we treat wildlife
Monday, May 29, 2017, 11:18 AM - A viral video of a young girl being pulled off a dock by a sea lion has sparked a heated debate: Who is to blame when it comes to human-wildlife conflict?
Officials at B.C.'s Steveston Harbour, where the incident took place, were quick to denounce the feeding of wild animals -- allegedly, the sea lion was fed by humans shortly before the attack -- and lengthy social media commentary explored appropriate distance from and behaviour around wild animals.
Despite initial reports that the girl's family fed the sea lion before the attack, the girl's father told CBC News that it was another bystander who fed the animal.
"There was somebody beside them that was trying to feed [the sea lion,]" the girl's father said in an interview with CBC. "Also, they weren't trying to take pictures or anything."
WATCH BELOW: Public reacts in Richmond, B.C. after sea lion encounter
Still, Steveston Harbour officials took extra precautions immediately after the incident, posting new signs about feeding and touching marine mammals.
Feeding animals doesn't just put humans in danger – it also impacts wildlife. More often that not, these encounters end poorly for the animal involved.
"[H]abituated animals – those are the ones who become used to getting food from us – can become aggressive," said Jolanta Walski, spokesperson for Ontario's Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry. "If those animals get into conflict with humans, the animals never win. The animals unfortunately will be killed."
Walski said that there's a misconception when it comes to non-violent wildlife encounters (like feeding birds), which leads humans to believe we're helping the animals. Often, human food isn't beneficial to wildlife, and opens the door to wider dangers.
"I think it’s really important that people understand that, for the most part, wildlife doesn’t want to be any closer to us than we do to them," Walski told The Weather Network.
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The takeaway from this recent sea lion encounter, Walski says, is the purpose of seeing wildlife in the wild.
"[I]t’s really unfortunate with the rise of certain types of media. [P]eople will go for the adventure, but it's “I’m going to take a picture of myself with this wild animal,” as oppose to just going “I’m going to go take advantage of this experience, look at it, store it in memory, and enjoy it over future years rather than trying to take a selfie with that animal, with that backdrop. "
A video of the incident at Steveston Harbour, captured by local resident Michael Fujiwara, has been viewed almost 26 million times.
"Always remember," Walski said, "the best thing about seeing the animals is seeing. It’s not about trying to get too close to them."