A Steller sea lion is seen beached near the Nippon paper mill in Port Angeles earlier this month. (Jesse Major/Peninsula Daily News)

State and federal officials euthanize Steller sea lion beached in Port Angeles

PORT ANGELES — State and federal officials have euthanized a suffering Steller sea lion that was beached at the Nippon Paper Industries USA mill near Ediz Hook since at least Jan. 6.

It was a joint decision between the state Department of Fish and Wildlife and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Marine Mammal Stranding Network, said Melissa Williams, executive director for Feiro Marine Life Center.

“It was clear it had just gone downhill and would continue to go downhill until it died,” Williams said.

By Saturday, when it was euthanized, the animal couldn’t lift its head and was hardly opening its eyes, she said.

An aquatic animal veterinarian and a DFW biologist determined the sea lion to be beyond recovery and chose to end its suffering, Williams said.

A necropsy was conducted on site to determine the sea lion’s health issue, but what exactly was wrong isn’t clear, she said.

All officials know is that it was an adult male older than 15 years old.

A Steller sea lion’s lifespan is typically about 20 years, she said.

It’s fairly uncommon for a sea lion to go that far into the harbor, Williams said. They are most frequently seen by the Coast Guard base at the end of Ediz Hook.

She said because of the animal’s size — estimated at more than 1,000 pounds — and its temperament, it would have been difficult to treat.

What doesn’t help is there are no facilities nearby that would have been able to treat it, Williams said.

“It’s not like a dog, a cat or a cow that’s domesticated,” she said. “It’s not the same process.”

She said for other animals it can be easy to find a facility, such as a zoo or aquarium, that can help.

But for the Steller sea lion, there was no such luck, she said.

“There is just not a good solution that is going to make everyone happy,” she said.

She is still urging people to stay away from the beach. There is still a health risk, especially to pets, Williams said.

“We’re looking at making sure the health risk is diminished,” she said. “We anticipate later this week we’ll have an all clear.”

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Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at jmajor@peninsuladailynews.com.