The consequences of feeding wildlife aren’t always apparent or immediate – but as shown in a viral video last week, the consequences are eventually very real.
The story of a little girl being dragged into the water by a sea lion at a dock popular with tourists and wildlife enthusiasts in Richmond, BC, was fodder across social media in Canada over the weekend. The girl, who is yet to be named, sat down with her back to the water on a dock where a sea lion was being fed. The curious animal jumped up, grabbed her dress, and pulled the girl into the water. A man immediately jumped into the water to help her up, and the entire incident was caught on camera.
Experts speaking with the CBC have since indicated that the sea lion, who is clearly used to being fed, simply thought the bright white dress was a piece of bread or fish, and did what he’d been taught: grab the food.
“It was as big a surprise to the sea lion as it was to the little girl,” Andrew Trites,director of UBC's Marine Mammal Research Unit told the CBC.
Since the video went viral, the dock has been swarmed with people wanting a chance to see the sea lion – despite an influx in signage urging people to not feed the animals. It is presently unclear if Conservation Officers or other officials will begin enforcing the regulations and handing out fines for feeding and inappropriate or unsafe behaviour. But it is clear how close this incident – which will some day be an amusing anecdote – could have come to disaster, for both the little girl and the sea lion.
Feeding wildlife creates behaviours and changes in an ecosystem that we can’t always predict – and even though we may not see immediate harm, the potential consequences can be devastating. In many cases, animals who have been “habituated” in such a way are killed by officials for the potential risk they pose.Please, educate people you see feeding wildlife, inform enforcement officials if necessary, and respect the animals enough to let them stay wild.