It’s an extremely rare sight in British Columbia: a ribbon seal (Histriophoca fasciata) hauled out on a local dock. That’s because this species is usually found in the icy cold waters of Alaska and not in B.C.’s temperate waters. This one has definitely strayed far from home.
This male ribbon seal was first spotted in the Puget Sound area near Seattle earlier this year, and it’s not known how it ended up there. It’s a surprise to find it this far south since its usual stomping ground is the western Arctic, between Russia and Alaska. Since that first sighting, it’s made its way up to Metro Vancouver where it was first checked out by Vancouver Aquarium veterinary staff in June.
Dr. Martin Haulena says the ribbon seal looks thin and can’t be expected to be doing well in a completely foreign environment. Blood and biopsy samples were taken from the seal at the dock. Dr. Haulena is still waiting on the results – in the meantime he says he’s concerned about its condition.
He’s also concerned about the number of people the seal comes in contact with on a daily basis, its ability to find food and the different climate in which it now lives. However, Dr. Haulena also says that the ribbon seal appears to be swimming normally and has been avoiding people when it wants to.
In the U.S., ribbon seals are considered a species of concern and are protected under their Marine Mammal Protection Act.
Aquarium staff, along with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, continue to monitor this stray seal to ensure that it’s safe and able to fend for itself. It’s been tagged so it can be identified in case it shows up somewhere else – though where it will move on to next is anyone’s guess.
If you believe a marine mammal is in distress, contact the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre at 604-258-SEAL (7325). Please don’t touch or try to move the animal until you’ve spoken with a trained rescue specialist.