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The Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre, presented by Port Metro Vancouver, had a milestone day Monday, as the team released a rehabilitated northern fur seal for the first time in its history, and then admitted another uncommon patient: a Steller sea lion pup.
“It’s impossible to say at any given time what types of animals may need our help,” said Lindsaye Akhurst, manager of the Rescue Centre. “Most of our patients through the summer rescue season are harbour seal pups, but this year we’re off to an interesting start, rehabilitating several novel species that we don’t see as often in our rescue centre.”
On Monday, a team from the Rescue Centre flew to Ucluelet with Flores, the northern fur seal (Callorhinus ursinus) rescued from the west coast of Vancouver Island in January. Well out of his range when rescued, the young fur seal was emaciated and had an injured eye. After almost five months of treatment and rehabilitation, he doubled his weight and was ready to return to the ocean.
“From the day of his rescue Flores was feisty, and he remained that way right up to his release, which is great,” said Akhurst. “We like to see that; it’s a good sign for his survival that he’s not overly friendly to humans and was ready to go.” After a quick trip on a flight donated by Harbour Air, Flores was released on Little Beach in Ucluelet, where he bolted for the water without looking back. Outfitted with a satellite tag so the team can track his journey, Flores headed for the open ocean, which is exactly what they hoped he would do.
Later the same day, the Rescue Centre team admitted a new patient, a newborn female Steller sea lion pup (Eumetopias jubatus). Named Bella Bella, after the town closest to the site of her rescue from remote McInnes Island off B.C.’s central coast, the tiny pup was lethargic, minimally responsive and without her mom when she was found by the lighthouse keeper on the island. She was flown by helicopter from the island’s Coast Guard station to Bella Bella, then to Vancouver by Pacific Coastal Airlines.
“She was in extremely poor condition when she arrived; we were worried about her,” said Dr. Barbara Linnehan, veterinary fellow at the Vancouver Aquarium, who estimates the pup to be about a week old. “Since being admitted, she’s been under intensive observation, treated with intravenous and subcutaneous fluids, gastric protectants and antibiotics, and fed specially-designed formula with both a tube and a bottle. She’s much brighter and more alert now, but she has a long road ahead.”
The Steller sea lion is the biggest of all sea lion species, found in Canada along B.C.’s rocky coast. It is listed as a Species of Special Concern under the Species at Risk Act.
Also receiving treatment at the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre: Senor Cinco, the adult male California sea lion (Zalophus californianus) found with gunshot wounds May 5 on Spanish Banks Beach. There are now three harbour seal pup patients as well: Princeton (male), Georgina (female) and Toronto (female). Since Canada will celebrate the 150th anniversary of Confederation this summer, the naming theme for harbour seal pups rescued in 2017 is Canadian cities and towns.
This year, members of the public are invited to symbolically “adopt” a seal pup at support.vanaqua.org/seals, which will help fund the ongoing rehabilitation efforts of the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre. It rescues, rehabilitates and releases about 150 animals each year; last year, the team rescued more than 170 animals. The goal for every rescued marine mammal is to treat, rehabilitate and return it to the wild as soon as possible. While most of the patients are harbour seal pups, the veterinary team has provided medical treatment to elephant seals, fur seals, sea otters, sea lions, whales, dolphins and porpoises, most of which are successfully released back into the wild.
If you see a stranded marine mammal, do not approach it and keep pets away. Please call the Vancouver Aquarium’s Marine Mammal Rescue Centre at 604.258.SEAL (7325) for immediate assistance.
The Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre, presented by Port Metro Vancouver, 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/donate.