The Vancouver Aquarium is urging members of the public to leave newborn seal pups alone following disturbing examples of human interference including people feeding the animals chicken drumsticks and hanging them upside down to take photos.
Marine Mammal Rescue Centre assistant manager Emily Johnson said 11 harbour seal pups have been taken into care since the end of June.
These animals had all been the subject of inappropriate human behaviour, the aquarium said, including people physically putting them in the water and feeding them unnatural foods such as smoked oysters, chicken drumsticks and cow's milk, as well petting them on their heads and hanging them upside down by their flippers to take photos.
"One well-meaning member of the public called a local wildlife centre to report an 'orphaned' pup, and then, without waiting for a response, drove it to a local veterinary clinic and dropped it off," the MMRC said in a release.
"Another woman placed a pup in her bathtub before calling to report it, and one man scooped up two newborn seal pups in a couch cushion case, zipped them up, and put them in the backseat of his car next to his dog to drive them over to the Rescue Centre."
While some of these animals were in poor condition and needed attention, Johnson said others did not.
"Once a pup has been removed from its natural environment it makes it difficult to be reunited with mom, and then we have no choice but to rehabilitate them," she said. "It’s not unusual to see a seal pup on its own at this time of year. Unlike some other marine mammals, harbour seal mothers can’t sustain lactation unless they go out and forage."
That's why it's important to contact the aquarium instead of interfering with a seal in anyway.
According to Johnson, anyone who encounters a lone seal pup should simply observe from a distance, prevent other people and pets from approaching and call the MMRC.
"We want to make sure that every pup reported is indeed separated from its mom because we know that a healthy pup’s best chance of survival is being raised by its mother," she said.
Staff at the MMRC can be reached at 604-258-7325. The hotline for Fisheries and Oceans Canada is 1-800-465-4336.