Whoa… is that a sea lion whizzing by? If you’re a boater in Indian Arm (the body of water east of North Vancouver), you may indeed see a Steller sea lion accompanied by Vancouver Aquarium marine mammal trainers. They’re out there on the water doing important research to find out why the number of Steller sea lions in the wild is declining. And in case you’re wondering, “Steller” is not a typo. Although these sea lions are indeed “stellar,” this particular species was actually named for the German naturalist Georg Wilhelm Steller.
Marine mammal training plays a crucial role in this research, and this is where the Vancouver Aquarium steps in. The trainers have spent many years working with the Steller sea lions on behaviours specific to this research project. Working in an open-water environment allows the sea lions to dive deeper and swim farther than they could at the Aquarium. Mimicking real-world conditions in a controlled setting makes this research project unique and effective.
To see what this training is like for a Steller sea lion, watch the video below. The sea lion featured in the video is actually outfitted with a camera, giving researchers a better idea of what’s going on under the surface.
What University of British Columbia researchers have found over the last decade is that there’s a relationship between nutrition and sea lion survivability. Specifically, they’re looking at how much energy Steller sea lions spend looking for food. As the world’s oceans continue to change, new challenges are presented to these animals that spend every day just trying to survive. Researchers ultimately want to know what can be done to help this species recover.
More information about sea lion research can be found here.