After a collaborative rescue effort over several days, an emaciated and out-of-its-range Guadalupe fur seal is now being treated at the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre.
“This species is usually found off the coast of Baja, California, and breeds on Mexico’s Guadalupe Island,” said Dr. Martin Haulena, head veterinarian at the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre. “It’s extremely rare for these animals to strand in B.C.; we’ve never responded to one before.”
The adult male was spotted Tuesday in Ucluelet by Vancouver Aquarium research associate Wendy Szaniszlo, who determined the animal was in distress and alerted Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), Parks Canada, and the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre. Though it swam away before rescuers could get to it on Wednesday, the animal was sighted again Thursday on a beach within Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. Szaniszlo and officers from DFO and Parks Canada were able to corral him into a kennel and transport him to Port Alberni where they met a team from the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre for a quick transfer and turnaround back to the ferry.
“Parks Canada protects the habitats, wildlife and ecosystem diversity within each national park on behalf of all Canadians,” said Mark Young, resource conservation manager at Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. “We were pleased to be able to collaborate with DFO and the Vancouver Aquarium to ensure the seal, rare for this region, receives the necessary care.”
Since being admitted to the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre early this morning, the fur seal has been under intensive observation and treated with subcutaneous fluids, gastric protectants and antibiotics. “He’s in poor condition, emaciated and dehydrated,” said Dr. Haulena. “Although he is very lethargic and has no interest in food at this time, he’s responsive and aware of his surroundings.”
The animal’s stranding in B.C. is of special interest because Guadalupe fur seals (Arctocephalus townsendi) are a threatened species in the U.S. They were hunted almost to extinction in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. They are not listed in Canada, since it’s not in their normal range. Last fall, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the U.S. declared an “unusual mortality event” for Guadalupe fur seals because they were washing up sick and dead along the California coast at a rate eight times higher than normal. Scientists think warmer waters in the eastern Pacific Ocean could be a possible cause for the strandings. Dubbed “the blob” by researchers, an unusually warm mass of seawater stretching along much of the west coast has been affecting marine life; some species of fish the fur seals eat may have moved farther north than usual to avoid the warmer waters.
Tissue samples from this animal will also be sent to NOAA scientists in the U.S. to test for exposure to toxic algae; results may take several months.
The Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre, presented by Port Metro Vancouver and supported by Teekay Shipping, is a hospital for sick, injured or orphaned marine mammals. The Rescue Centre rescues stranded marine mammals and rehabilitates them for release back into their natural habitat. Donate to the Rescue Centre at www.vanaqua.org/mmr