The Steller sea lions (Eumetopias jubatus) are arguably the Vancouver Aquarium’s most vocal animals – you can’t miss them in the Wild Coast gallery. But what you see at the Aquarium is only a part of these animals’ legacy. They’re actually part of a research study being conducted by the Aquarium and the University of British Columbia (UBC). This research is looking at why the number of Steller sea lions is declining in the Gulf of Alaska, Aleutian Islands and Bering Sea.

As part of this research, UBC researcher Dr. Andrew Trites goes out on sea lion monitoring missions. After a busy summer, I caught up with him about his July field trip, which saw him and his team travel from Port Hardy, at the north end of Vancouver Island, to the Alaska border, before travelling down the east coast of Haida Gwaii and crossing the open ocean back to Vancouver Island.

Photo: Dr. Andrew Trites

Photo: Dr. Andrew Trites

The team’s goal was to collect diet samples (scats), identify U.S.-born sea lions, document the incidence of entanglement and record the establishment of new breeding areas.

These sea lion monitoring field trips provide researchers the chance to see with their own eyes how the breeding areas are doing. Dr. Trites says that sea lion numbers are continuing to increase in British Columbia. This year, they saw that two new breeding sites had increased since their last survey, including one at Garcin Rocks, Haida Gwaii — bringing the total number of breeding sites in British Columbia to five.

They also noted Steller sea lion pups being born at three additional sites along the central coast, but Dr. Trites says it’s too early to tell whether their numbers will grow to the point that they can be considered established breeding colonies. In the meantime, they’ll continue to spend more time on the water, with binoculars in hand.

Written by Karen Horak, writer-editor, content and digital experience at the Vancouver Aquarium.

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