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.

Vancouver Aquarium veterinarian Dr. Martin Haulena

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.


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7 Responses

  1. Akiko Kawabata

    Thank you very much for your answer! Wow I was not that bad, the ribbon pattern could be a camouflage! That is cute as well as practical! Thanks a lot, and have a great late summer! I’m looking forward to seeing new seal articles!!

  2. Akiko Kawabata

    I was wondering how this ribbon seal gets going. Is he healthy or did you help him to go back to the icy sea? I watched this movie number of times and put the link on my blog. Hope he is getting well.

    • Vancouver Aquarium

      Hi Akiko – the marine mammal team did run some tests on the seal, but since then the seal has been in the wild. The last update we’ve received is that the ribbon seal was sighted two weeks ago around the Sunshine Coast, but hasn’t been seen since then. His current condition is also unknown. However, the seal’s whereabouts are still continuing to be monitored, so we’re asking that if anyone sees it, to contact the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre at 604-258-SEAL (7325).

    • Akiko Kawabata

      Thank you for your information. So the ribbon seal is on the sea. I hope he will get well going. I’m also praying for him from Japan. In Hokkaido (north Japan) we sometimes see ribbon seals, and there is at least one at Otaru Aquarium in Hokkaido.
      Can I ask a question? What is the ribbon pattern for the seal? Is it to menace its enemies or hide from enemies like a chameleon? A friend of mine asked me. I searched the Internet, but there is no good ribbon seal book for amateurs, and Google book search did not give me any information. If you could give me even a little hint, that’s really a big news for me! 😉

      • Vancouver Aquarium

        Thank you for your question, Akiko. It’s hard to know for sure, but one possibility for the ribbon pattern could be that it’s a form of camouflage known as disruptive colouration. Many animals have spots, stripes or other patterns on their bodies that work to break up their overall outline while moving through their environment. In this way, they are harder for their predators and prey to spot. So for example with the ribbon seal, the white band around its body could be there to create the illusion that one ribbon seal is actually many smaller animals.

  3. Jode Morgan

    Just wanted you to know that a tagged ribbon seal showed up at my place and is laying on my dock. He appears to be fine resting stretching and snoozing in the sun today. I posted pics on my FB page Morgans Landing Wilderness Retreat his Tag # is B310 you can see the tag in one of the pics. I am located on Lot 2526 on the mainland, on the west side of the enterance to Bute Inlet, Stuart Island sits in the mouth of the Inlet. on my FB page info is the long and lat, feel free to call 250-287-0237 and i can let you know how long he hangs out_ Thanks it was pretty cool to see him! Jode Morgan


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