This weekend an enormous sea lion snatched a young girl under the water at Steveston Harbour in British Columbia. This terrifying encounter was caught on a video that went viral, racking up over 23 millions views so far.
The obvious reaction is that , as wildlife experts agree, the whole incident could have been avoided if the family had stayed a safe distance from the wild mammal, and had not fed it breadcrumbs. That is certainly true and advice that should be heeded to prevent future attacks.
But these discussions are missing the point that it may be time to euthanize this sea lion. Human safety is a much bigger concern than any single mammal’s life. If an animal attacks once, it could attack again. We shouldn’t take any chances. At a minimum, it should be moved to captivity.
Thankfully, this time, a brave bystander swiftly jumped into the water and rescued the child. If not for the rescue, the child could have easily drowned or been terribly injured. California Sea lions can stay underwater for up to 20 minutes, dive to depths of 900 feet, and grow up to 7 feet in length and over 800 pounds.
Killing animals responsible for human attacks is not uncommon. Authorities trapped and killed the reptiles suspected of dragging a toddler into a lagoon in Florida last year (sadly PETA even protested this decision).
Had the sea lion badly injured or killed the child, there would probably be a strong consensus to euthanize it. The sea lion violently dragged the girl into the water. That should be enough. The fact that the girl was rescued does not negate the potentially deadly outcome.
Sea lions aren’t docile mammals either. There have been numerous recorded sea lion attacks in the last few years. In 2015 a supposedly tame sea lion mauled a young boy at a zoo, ripping a chunk out of his leg. 13-year-old Ella Murphy underwent surgery from cuts to her throat and a broken jaw after a sea lion attacked her off Australia’s west coast.
Of course sea lions are also beautiful, majestic and intelligent mammals, tied to culture and history. The people of Peru, for example, have a history of worshiping them, which is why they often display sea lions in their artwork. They are also highly intelligent and can be trained to perform tricks and entertain.
The United States Navy trains sea lions to help locate mines and even detain suspicious divers in the fight against terrorism. The Telegraph reported how “[t]he US Navy currently have 28 California Sea Lions, 80 Atlantic and Pacific Bottlenose Dolphins and one Beluga whale in service.” And of course there is the adorable Salty the baby seal Disney character and other depictions that just make you warm and fuzzy inside.
This tragedy was certainly avoidable had basic precautions like staying a safe distance and not feeding wild animals been followed. But the fact is that it attacked a young girl, and could strike again.
We must respect and protect sea lions as a species, but human safety comes before any individual mammal. There is no reason to take chances with human lives. The sea lion responsible for this attack should be relocated to captivity where it can be properly watched. But, if no organization steps forward to detain the mammal, it must be euthanized.
Eliyahu Federman has written for The USA Today, New York Post, The Huffington Post and others, including on animal rights related issues. Follow him on Twitter: @elifederman.