Monday, May 22, 2017

About that Girl Being Dragged off the Dock by a Sea Lion in Steveston...

By now if you spend any amount of time reading the news or watching videos on the Internet you would have seen the video of the young girl being dragged by her dress into the water. This was in the harbour at Steveston Village, and long time readers will know that a lot of the material in this blog was shot in and around the area. The event itself is surprising in how dramatic it was, but perhaps not surprising in that it happened at all.



Both the sea lion and the girl were ok, but in the words of a marine life specialist, both are were probably shocked by the turn of events. The sea lion mistook the back of the girl's dress for food and everything else happened afterwards. Social media, of course, has not been kind to the family. There is ample signage in the area telling people to not feed the wildlife, but that obviously goes on, especially during tourist season. In all honesty the circumstances are not unusual, but the fact that it went as far as it did is.









Steveston is a proper fishing village situated at the mouth of Fraser River, on the edge of Richmond, a suburb of Vancouver.  The waters are home to commercial fishing boats, with some piers dedicated to pure commercial use and the main one in the center where you can buy freshly caught seafood off the docs. It was once a proper working marine port, but now is better known as a tourist destination and the filming location of Once Upon a Time or whichever film needs a location to substitute for New England. It's incredibly busy during the tourist season, and especially on a sunny day in the summer.

The public dock on a busy summer day. Spot prawns are now the trendy item in the spring.
Mute swans in the harbour. These aren't really supposed to be here either.


Where there are people and food out in the open (raw or cook) there is wildlife. In Vancouver this means the ubiquitous seagulls trying to snatch your lunch out of your hands, or the mute swans that took up home in the water of the harbour, much to the consternation of wildlife officers. Sea lions are not a rare sight as the river provides fish and a safe haven from orcas, but they generally don't go within 100 metes of a the doc, not unless you tempt them with food.

It goes without saying, do not feed the wildlife. That was obviously happening in the lead-up, even if the girl's family wasn't involved. Even if it wasn't happening on this day, it happens regardless and is what encourages the familiarity of the animals. In the absence of human enticement, the sea lions would not normally venture near the docs with all of the boat traffic. If you lived in bear country, it would be an easy thing to remember to not feed the animals because it would be drilled into you from childhood and because the consequences are dire. Nobody thought that attacked by a marine mammal would be a problem, but here we are.

However, animals like the pigeons, racoons  and seagulls aren't truly wide in the David Attenborough sense ; they live in a cohabitation with the urban environment. Because "Vancouver" is synonymous with "water", this also applies to the aquatic life that cohabits the waterways in the region. You even see this outside of the immediate Vancouver waters, as the orca and dolphin pods are habituated to the cruise ship traffic that go up and down the coast.



It wasn't always like this in the village, though.

The commercial dock. The public isn't allowed down on to these piers.

What made Steveston what it is was that its life's blood was fishing. This was what the village was built upon, but the fishery has declined, like many over the years. During my childhood the fish was plentiful, not just the salmon for which British Columbia is famous for, but also with the snapper, ling cod and the larger vessels bringing in halibut. As the years went by the salmon runs got shorter and the prices have gotten higher. The fad now is spot prawns, and one can only hope that it doesn't go the way of the salmon runs.

The draw of the village is now on how idyllic the location is. It's not strictly a tourist corner, as there is a thriving local community built around the whole village... but its the kind of community where mom's in yoga pants walk their children while sipping on a latte. In other words, the stereotypical Vancouver caricature.

The boardwalk heading down to the old shipyards.

Ideally it should never have gotten this far, but is probably a wake up call for the harbour. The tourist traffic isn't new, but it is only growing year after year. While ignorance on how to respect wildlife isn't really excusable, the pragmatic reality is that it will be an on-going educational fight. The probability of somebody being dragged into the water again is exceedingly low, but the carelessness of it all is somewhat symbolic of the hard-nosed working class history of the village and its transformation into a softer, easier existence. It's a wonderful place to spend an afternoon or perhaps walk off diner around sunset. Just don't feed the animals.



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