Port officials are lambasting the family of a young girl for “reckless behaviour” after she was dragged into the water by a sea lion off a dock at Steveston in Richmond, B.C.
Robert Kiesman, chair of the Steveston Harbour Authority, said there are several signs posted at the popular tourist destination warning people not to feed the sea mammals that frequent the area.
“You wouldn’t go up to a grizzly bear in the bush and hand him a ham sandwich, so you shouldn’t be handing a thousand-pound wild mammal in the water slices of bread,” Kiesman said.
“And you certainly shouldn’t be letting your little girl sit on the edge of the dock with her dress hanging down after the sea lion has already snapped at her once. Just totally reckless behaviour.”
A Richmond resident captured dramatic video on Saturday showing the sea lion grabbing the young girl by the dress and dragging her into the water off the dock.
I captured a scary moment of a seal dragging a young girl into the water at the #Richmond Steveston Wharf #Vancouver https://t.co/58mzL0v1mM
The harbour authority has posted more signs along the dock where the girl was attacked Saturday, Kiesman said, in addition to staff who regularly patrol the area throughout the day to deliver verbal warnings.
“You can only spend so much time protecting people from their reckless behaviour,” he said.
“We’ve now seen an example of why it’s illegal to do this and why it’s dangerous and frankly stupid to do this.”
The signs warn that sea lion bites “can cause very serious infections that may lead to amputation of a limb or even death.” They also say the maximum penalty for “disturbing” a marine mammal is $100,000.
“Hopefully people are actually going to start paying attention to the rules and our warnings,” he said.
New signs going up in #steveston #sealions #warning pic.twitter.com/J8c4V2djrm
Kiesman said there are similar issues throughout B.C., including Prince Rupert, Comox and Victoria.
SFU student Michael Fujiwara captured the video. He said he was on the dock when he saw the large, male sea lion approach, so he started filming it as a crowd gathered around the animal.
He said a family began feeding it bread crumbs while the young girl got close to the edge of the dock.
‘Pretty shaken up’
Fujiwara said he didn’t know if the man who jumped into the water to rescue the girl was related to her. He said it appeared that no one was injured in the incident, but the girl and those with her left immediately after getting her back on the dock.
He told CBC News on Saturday that the family was “pretty shaken up” and appeared to be in shock.
Fujiwara said he goes once a week to the docks and sees sea lions often, but has never witnessed anything like what he was able to capture on video.
Andrew Trites, director of UBC’s Marine Mammal Research Unit, said the animal wasn’t to blame for its behaviour in the video.
Trites said the sea lion in the video looked like it’s used to having people feed it, and probably mistook the girl’s dress for food.
According to Canada’s Marine Mammal Regulations, “no person shall disturb a marine mammal except when fishing.”
Trites said he hopes the video of the encounter teaches others to not feed wild animals like sea lions. He said the animals are not inherently dangerous and are not looking to grab people.
With files from Chad Pawson and Meera Bains