It was a typical fall, West Coast morning with low lying clouds and a cool, dampness in the air as we pulled into the parking lot at Porteau Cove. Yet, the day was anything other than typical for four harbour seals that were about to be released back to the wild after several months of rehabilitation at the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre, presented by Port Metro Vancouver.
More than 160 seals have been rescued and rehabilitated over the course of the summer and early fall. However, these most recently released seals will help contribute to future rescues through specially fitted satellite-linked transmitters that are temporarily attached to their body with animal safe glue.
“This is the third year of this Vancouver Aquarium seal research project,” said Dr. Martin Haulena, Vancouver Aquarium head veterinarian. “Data collected from the satellite-linked transmitters enable us to learn more about their habitat, foraging and other behaviours. It also indicates how well the animals do after their release, and how well we’ve prepared them for life in their natural habitat.”
Each tag will stay attached to the pelage — the seal’s coat — until it moults after six to nine months. Information about the animal’s location is sent by satellite signal and displayed online, which will also be accessible to the public through the Marine Mammal Rescue tracking webpage.
A couple of lucky bystanders assisted with the release and watched the seals as they began on their long journey ahead. A few of the seals were reluctant to go and had to be gently encouraged to head for the water. Once in the water, the seals congregated together for a short while; their small heads could be seen poking out of the water with their special “hats” on.
Five seals were also fitted with transmitters in 2013. The longest lasting of the devices, on the seal Polaris, stopped transmitting a signal in September. “Tracking them helps us understand the factors that affect the survival of rescued, rehabilitated and released animals,” says Dr. Haulena. “It helps us determine ideal release locations and continue to improve our rehabilitation practices while they are in our care.”
If you see a marine mammal in distress, stay a safe distance back and call the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre at 604 258 SEAL (7325).
Vancouver Aquarium’s Marine Mammal Rescue Centre, presented by Port Metro Vancouver and supported by Teekay Shipping, is a non- profit hospital for sick, injured or orphaned marine mammals. You can make a difference to a rescued seal pup by donating today.