Wayward sea lion found making its way along a gravel road on northwest Vancouver Island

Greg Clarke has seen a lot of wildlife in 23 years of driving between his Port Hardy home to his job at the old military base at Holberg: cougars, bears, elk and more.

But spotting a huge sea lion making its way along the gravel logging road on Monday afternoon was a first.

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“It was probably the most bizarre thing I’ve ever seen on this road,” he said in an interview on Tuesday.

A grader operator saw the sea lion first and notified Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the body with responsibility for marine mammals.

Clarke also contacted the federal department, concerned about the animal being so far from the ocean.

Clarke had heard about the sea lion on his way to work, where he monitors the radar station at the old military post on northwest Vancouver Island.

“He got scared off the road and actually sat up in the woods in the power lines.”

Six hours later on Clarke’s way home, the sea lion had returned to the road having travelled about three-quarters of a kilometre since that morning. Scuff marks in the gravel showed where the animal had been.

“So what he was doing — he would travel a fair ways on the road and then he would go down in the ditch where there was some water and he would play in the water for a little while, swim along a little bit and then come back on the road again,” Clarke said.

“And he would the cross the road and find more water. So basically he was going back and forth across the road.”

Clarke estimated that the sea lion was about six kilometres from the ocean when he saw it. It was about half a kilometre from one of the rivers.

The sea lion did not seem pleased to see a vehicle, Clarke said. “As I was coming back from work, I actually drove past him and he kind of charged my truck a couple of times.”

There was no sign of the sea lion on Tuesday morning. Locals are hoping it found its way back to the water.

Clarke figured the sea lion weighed a minimum of 600 pounds and likely more.

The animal was between the San Josef and Goodspeed rivers. Both feed into marine waters.

Paul Cottrell, Fisheries and Oceans’ marine mammal co-ordinator, identified the animal as a Steller sea lion and said it appears in good condition.

It’s likely the animal went up a nearby creek and became disoriented, ending up on the road, he said.

“It’s a very unique, odd incident but we’re hoping that the animal finds his way back.”

Federal officials are working with local residents to monitor the situation. If necessary, Cottrell said, they would move in to relocate the sea lion.

This isn’t the first time that a big sea lion has gone astray.

An adult California sea lion, nicknamed James Pond, hauled up on a deck in the Sunshine Coast in 2019, also likely arriving via a creek. Marine mammal staffers tranquillized him to return him to the ocean.


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