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Sea Lion on Oregon Coast Dock Humanely Euthanized After Shark Takes Piece Out of It

Updated 4/18/24 at 6:45 p.m.
y Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

(Newport, Oregon) –[UPDATE: Addresses rumors it was not a shark bite - experts say it was definitely a shark] --- WARNING: SOME WILL FIND THIS CONTENT DISTURBING. A sad and jolting sight on a Newport dock for a few weeks is finally over with, as Oregon coast officials humanely euthanized a severely injured California sea lion. The sea lion had a sizable piece of its body taken out of it in what is believed to be a shark bite. (Photo Oregon Coast Aquarium / Jeremy Burke)

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Oregon Coast Aquarium released the information Wednesday, saying it took a few discussions about quality of life for the animal, engaging Oregon State University’s Marine Mammal Institute and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW). The creature had been languishing at Newport's Port Dock One since at least mid March, with many witnesses saying it appeared to be in pain. The wound was considerable, with a large chunk of the sea lion clearly missing near its tail, spanning the left hind quarter.

Many chimed in on social media, urging local wildlife personnel to do something.

You can see one of numerous social media photos of the sea lion here.

Courtney Klug, spokesman for the aquarium, said the decision was not made lightly, and that experts observed the creature extensively. A permit for the euthanasia was obtained and crews went into the planning stages.

“In accordance with ODFW policy, there are no rescue or rehabilitation options for sick or injured harbor seals and sea lions in Oregon,” Klug said. “While the state policy is to minimize disturbance from people and let nature take its course, there are exceptions, such as when an animal is entangled in debris, harmed by human interference, or, as in this case, recovery isn’t feasible.”

Strandings of marine mammals are the territory of the Marine Mammal Stranding Network along the Oregon and Washington coast, which operates under the Marine Mammal Institute, headquartered at the Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, near the aquarium. The network is comprised of volunteers around the coastline, led by Jim Rice (who often responds to whale strandings on the central and south coast).

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Rice kept an eye on the injured sea lion since the first report on March 21, documenting changes in appearance and behavior. As harsh as it seems to many, the general policy among experts is to let nature take its course.

Klug said sea lions have been known to survive major injuries, however this one was declining badly in health, prompting Rice to consult ODFW and the aquarium to determine next steps.

“The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration authorized the remote sedation and euthanasia of this animal under the Marine Mammal Heath and Stranding Response Program permit #24359,” Klug said.

Crews took the research boat Gracie Lynn to the dock at Newport and hit the sea lion with a sedation dart. Hauling it aboard, the young male was euthanized on the spot. Its body then went to Oregon State University for a necropsy.

Rice said the group records some 700 strandings over the course of a year.

“We document each one, and the information gives us important data points that inform us about the health issues affecting marine mammals,” he said.

Even though Oregon policy doesn't allow the rescue and rehabilitation of harbor seals or sea lions, Rice said you should still report any strandings on the coastline.

In spite of differing reports, Rice said the injuries were far more consistent with a shark bite than a propeller incident. Some on social media are claiming it was a propeller strike, but Rice said that is not true.

If you come across a stranded or injured marine mammal, immediately contact the West Coast Region Stranding Hotline at 1-866-767-6114.

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Andre' GW Hagestedt is editor, owner and primary photographer / videographer of Oregon Coast Beach Connection, an online publication that sees over 1 million pageviews per month. He is also author of several books about the coast.

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