The journey from rescue to release has been a long one for Nadia Comaneci.

The seal pup was found stranded near Prince Rupert last summer, and, at just over 5 kilograms, was one of the smallest of the 144 seal pups treated at the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre’s Marine Mammal Rescue Centre last summer.

It took seven months for Nadia to gain the weight necessary for release into the wild, and by then she was one of just seven pups left at the facility.

By January, she had reached a healthy weight of 25 kilograms and was ready for release — but she still had a ways to go.

While many of the harbour seals treated at Vancouver Aquarium’s Marine Mammal Rescue Centre are released locally, those that come from northern communities must be returned to their original location.

“It’s important for us to return those seals back to where they came from because they are a different population than seals from around here,” explains Lindsaye Akhurst, manager of Vancouver Aquarium’s Marine Mammal Rescue Centre. “They have an earlier breeding and pupping season.”

Nadia's plane lands at the Prince Rupert airport.

Nadia’s plane lands at the Prince Rupert airport.

And so, at the end of January Nadia did what many of us do when we need to get somewhere: she hopped on a plane. Or rather, rescue centre staff arranged for her to fly Air Canada — one of the only airlines flying into and out of Prince Rupert this time of year — and handed her over to friendly airline employees, who then placed her in the cargo hold. (Her ticket cost $150.) Once in Prince Rupert, Nadia waited patiently for passengers and baggage to unload before being met by Patricia DeMille of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO).

The journey from sky to sea was a quick one, as the airport that serves Prince Rupert is on an island and the team needed to be sure to catch the ferry back. So, pausing only to let a few kids get a glimpse of their unusual cargo, DeMille and the DFO crew dashed to their truck and onto the ferry. From there, DFO officers drove Nadia to their patrol vessel, the Oval Bay, to take her to her final destination.

In the winter drizzle, the crew found a quiet bay on the south end of Metlkatla Bay with a low incline shore where Nadia could easily pull herself out of the water.

It didn’t take much convincing for Nadia to get back into her wild habitat. As soon as the officers opened her crate and tilted it forward — Splash! — Nadia jumped out all on her own, making a beeline for the shore where she settled into her new surroundings.[youtube][/youtube]

It was a long journey for sure, but one we’re so glad we could help her complete.

Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre, presented by Port Metro Vancouver and supported by Teekay Shipping, is a self-supporting, non-profit society and does not receive ongoing fund to provide around-the-clock care for its rescued and rehabilitated animals. Click here to learn more about how your donations to the Rescue Centre helps to support rescued and rehabilitated seal pups each year. 

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