A Pacific Coastal Airlines flight from Vancouver to the village of Masset on Haida Gwaii last Thursday morning had two very special passengers on board: the first seal pups from the Vancouver Aquarium’s Marine Mammal Rescue Centre 2016 patient list to be returned back to the ocean.
Timbit was the first seal pup patient of the season, rescued on May 24. The tiny male pup, weighing just eight kilograms, was discovered on a beach near Bella Bella on B.C.’s Central Coast, and at the time of his rescue was estimated to be just a few days old and likely born early. He was still covered in the soft fur of a newborn and had the remnants of his umbilical cord still attached. After first receiving nutrient-rich formula five times per day, Timbit proved a quick study at the crucial skill of swallowing fish whole, and soon moved to a pre-release pool to gain weight and get healthy for his eventual trip back to the ocean.
Jude’s journey to recovery was more difficult. Found June 3 near Masset, the pup appeared to have been attacked by another animal: he had wounds in his left upper lip and next to his right eye, and was missing his right eyelid. The veterinary team at the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre wasn’t sure his eye could be saved, but was determined to try. After several procedures to clean and suture his wounds, Jude’s face has now completely healed, and like Timbit, he made quick progress from fish formula to whole fish. Although his right eye appears smaller than his left, the cornea is healthy and he can see just fine.
The young seal had star power in his corner, cheering him on through his rehab. This year, names for the seal pup patients have been chosen by select supporters of the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre, such as the Plastic Oceans Foundation. The Foundation recently announced Julian Lennon as their new patron, and as one of his first acts with the Foundation, he chose the name “Jude” for the resilient little pup.
Once fully recovered, both Jude and Timbit were ready to return to the ocean. Thanks to Pacific Coastal Airways and Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the pair flew as cargo to Haida Gwaii — for a release closer to the locations where they were first found — and on Thursday afternoon, they were released at South Beach in Masset.
The goal for every rescued marine mammal is to treat, rehabilitate and return it to the wild as soon as possible. The Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre rescues, rehabilitates and releases more than 100 animals each year; last year, the team rescued 145 animals. As well as harbour seal pups, the veterinary team provides medical treatment to sea otters, sea lions, sea turtles, elephant seals, whales, dolphins, and porpoises.
If you see a stranded marine mammal, do not approach it and keep pets away. Call the Vancouver Aquarium’s Marine Mammal Rescue Centre at 604.258.SEAL (7325) for immediate assistance.
Vancouver Aquarium is a self-supporting, non-profit society and does not receive ongoing funds to provide around-the-clock care for its rescued and rehabilitated animals. To make a contribution to the Rescue Centre, please visit support.vanaqua.org/MMR.