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Loud, smelly and ‘spellbinding’ — hundreds of huge sea lions converge on Powell River

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Hundreds of sea lions have converged on a beach in Powell River, B.C., as photographers and nature lovers arrive to take in the sight. 

Powell River resident Lesley Armstrong says the sea lions started arriving around Christmas and their numbers have been growing to the point where the animals are covering nearly every inch of the barges, beach and breakwater at Second Beach. 

“It’s just become the most amazing visual spectacle. And everybody’s going down there,” Armstrong said over the phone from her home. 

“It’s really spellbinding because they’re so loud and they’re so raucous and they’re all playing in the water — those that aren’t sleeping and lying on the rocks.”

Armstrong says there were up to three dozen cars parked at the beach on Sunday morning to watch the large mammals snuggle up against each other.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans put up a sign warning people not to interact with them, but Armstrong says the sea lions are packed so tightly together that no one could even try to walk among them. 

‘I was just amazed’

It’s not the first time sea lions have converged in the area at this time of year, Armstrong says, but even long-term residents have never seen them in such great numbers. 

She says some of the sea lions appear to weigh up to a tonne. 

“I stood there with both my dogs on leashes about ten feet from them and they just didn’t even care that I was there. I was just amazed,” she said.

“When they wake up they bark and bark and bark and it’s very social. It’s very entertaining.”

Armstrong says her loud new neighbours appear to be a mix of Steller and California sea lions. 

Growing populations

According to the Vancouver Aquarium, Steller sea lions are quite common off the coast of B.C., but their populations had been mysteriously dwindling over the past few years. 

They were declared endangered in 1997, the aquarium says on its website, but their numbers are slowly growing. 

The Marine Mammal Centre says California sea lions are found as far north as Vancouver Island and as far south as Baja California in Mexico.

The organization’s website describes them as “opportunistic eaters” that feed on squid, octopus, herring, rockfish, mackerel and small sharks. Their numbers also appear to be growing.

Some groups say seals and sea lions have been booming in the past few years, to the chagrin of some fishermen who want to start hunting them. 

Advocates of a hunt are also pitching it as a way to help B.C.’s endangered southern resident killer whales, which feed mainly on salmon. 

‘You can smell it’

Armstrong says she doesn’t think the sea lions will be in Powell River much longer.

That may be a blessing — she says warmer weather in the past few days has led to a rather pungent odour from the huge beasts. 

“You can smell it. It’s much more fetid,” she said.

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‘Too soon to celebrate’ Ottawa’s low case count, says Etches

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Ottawa Public Health (OPH) logged just 11 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, the lowest daily total since Sept. 1.

Because of the lag between testing and reporting, the low number could simply reflect low turnout at the city’s testing sites on weekends — all month, new case counts have been lower on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. 

During a virtual news conference Tuesday, the city’s medical officer of health Dr. Vera Etches said she doesn’t read too much into a single day’s report.

“I don’t think we can make too much of 11. Actually, it could be a lot higher tomorrow — I would expect that, on average,” she said. “It’s too soon to celebrate.”

Provincewide, public health officials reported 1, 249 new cases Tuesday.

OPH also declared 62 cases resolved Tuesday, lowering the number of known active cases in the city to 462. Two more people have died, both in care homes currently experiencing outbreaks, raising the city’s COVID-19 death toll to 361. 

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Santa Claus isn’t coming to Ottawa’s major malls this year

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Santa Claus may still be coming to town this Christmas, but he won’t be dropping by any of Ottawa’s major malls, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Friday, Cadillac Fairview said Santa won’t be making an appearance at any of its 19 malls across Canada, including Rideau Centre in downtown Ottawa. On Tuesday, Bayshore and St. Laurent shopping centres confirmed they, too, are scrapping the annual tradition.

“Due to the evolution of the situation in regards to COVID-19, we have made the difficult decision to cancel our Santa Program and Gift Wrap Program this year,” Bayshore spokesperson Sara Macdonald wrote in an email to CBC.

Macdonald said parent company Ivanhoé Cambridge cancelled all holiday activities “due to the rising number of COVID-19 cases across the country.”

Macdonald said families that had already booked an appointment to visit Santa will receive an email with more information.  

Virtual visits with Santa

Rideau Centre said based on customer research and discussions with public health officials, its North Pole is going online this year.

“Children will be able to have a private chat with Santa,” said Craig Flannagan, vice-president of marketing for Cadillac Fairview. “You’ll also be able to join a 15-minute storytime with Santa over Facebook Live.” 

At Place d’Orléans Shopping Centre, visitors are invited to take a “selfie with Santa” — actually, a life-size cutout of Santa Pierre, the man who’s been playing Santa at the east end mall for years.

“We understand that this is not ideal, but in lieu of this tradition we will be doing what we can to maintain and encourage holiday cheer,” according to a statement on the mall’s Facebook page.

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Ottawa Bylaw breaks up two large parties in Ottawa over the weekend

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OTTAWA — Ottawa Bylaw is investigating social gatherings of more than 10 people in private homes across Ottawa last weekend.

Mayor Jim Watson tells Newstalk 580 CFRA that Ottawa Bylaw broke-up two house parties over the weekend, with 20 to 25 people at each party.

“That’s the kind of stupidity that angers me, that’s where the bulk of the transmissions are taking place, if we exclude the tragedy of the long-term care homes; it’s these house parties with unrelated people,” said Watson on Newstalk 580 CFRA’s Ottawa at Work with Leslie Roberts.

“The message doesn’t seem to be getting through, particularly to some young people who think they’re invincible.”

In a statement to CTV News Ottawa, Bylaw and Regulatory Services Director Roger Chapman says, “There are still ongoing investigations from this past weekend that could result in charges.”

Chapman says recent investigations led to two charges being issued for social gatherings of more than 10 people in a private residence in contravention of the Reopening Ontario Act.

“In one case, up to 30 individuals were observed attending a house party in Ward 18 on Oct. 24,” said Chapman.

“The second charge was issued following a house party in Ward 16 on Oct. 31, where up to 16 individuals were observed to be in attendance.”

The fine is $880 for hosting an illegal gathering.

Alta Vista is Ward 18, while Ward 16 is River Ward.

Ottawa Bylaw has issued 24 charges for illegal gatherings since the start of the pandemic.

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