Visitors to the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre will notice some new furry faces have shown up in our BC Sugar pool.

Northern fur seals Ani and Tikva were introduced to their new habitat this week, leading the way for fellow seals Tuku, Aya and Meechi, who will rotate through the space in the coming weeks and months. (Ani is the most distinctive due to a missing eye, the result of an injury she acquired as a pup before arriving at the Aquarium.)

The five female fur seals are moving into the space that was formerly home to harbour porpoises Jack and Daisy — who are settling in to their new home in our Canada’s Arctic habitat, where they’re getting acquainted with beluga whales Qila and Aurora.

Engaging and social, the fur seals – which are actually a species of sea lion – are a great addition to our public display, said Billy Lasby, Vancouver Aquarium’s Steller Sea Lion Coordinator. “Education-wise it’s great that the public will be able to see these guys. Like Steller sea lions, they’re very interactive, and because they can come out of the water they can connect with people on a different level.”

Ani gets acquainted with her new digs.

Ani gets acquainted with her new digs.

The underwater acrobatics of northern fur seals, visible through the viewing windows in our Canada’s Arctic gallery, are truly a sight to behold, but their presence at the Aquarium also serves an important conservation purpose.

Though this is their first time on permanent public display, the fur seals have been hanging out behind the scenes at the Aquarium for seven years as part of a groundbreaking research study aimed at uncovering why wild populations are in decline.

As much as 80 per cent of the world’s population of northern fur seals once bred and gave birth on the Pribilof Islands of St. Paul and St. George in the Bering Sea, but the population has declined by 80 percent in the last 30 to 40 years. The long term research collaboration between the University of British Columbia and the Vancouver Aquarium aims to uncover why.

These expert swimmers with supple spines are truly a sight to behold.

With their supple spines and underwater acrobatics, northern fur seals are truly a sight to behold.

Lasby, who has been working with the seals since their arrival at the Aquarium as pups, is part of a team that has been measuring their metabolic rate, energy use and monitoring blood work to determine what kind of diet the species needs for optimal survival and reproduction. The results are helping scientists determine what is happening to wild populations, which appear to be malnourished. “In the wild, northern fur seals are still filling their bellies, but not with the right things,” he says.

The seals will continue their participation in the study while on display. In the meantime, visitors now have the chance to get acquainted with these charismatic and curious critters. “They will soon become your favorite animal,” Lasby warns. “They are mine… And I’m not biased or anything.”

 

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