Equipped with the ocean science version of a fascinator, Mo, the northern fur seal, burst off the beach on Vancouver Island’s west coast earlier this month. The satellite transmitter on top of her head will allow scientists to track her location and status for several more weeks to come.

The pup, who was rescued from waters near Hardwicke Island in January, 2019, spent five months being rehabilitated at the Vancouver Aquarium’s Marine Mammal Rescue Centre (MMRC) before her release. Without so much as a parting glance at her caregivers, she rushed into the water at Big Beach and bolted for the open ocean.

Mo was originally spotted swimming in an unusual way by employees at a Mowi salmon farming operation. She was floating sideways and seemed to be unable to dive. Staff at the MMRC estimated her to be about seven months old, but severely underweight.

‘Mo’ was rescued from waters near Hardwicke Island in January.

Mo’s rescue and rehabilitation were the result of many kind and generous people pitching in. Mowi employees raised funds for her care, conducted under permit from Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and Pacific Coastal Airlines donated her flight to the Vancouver-based Rescue Centre and her final flight back to Ucluelet.

MMRC staff members tended to Mo under the direction of Lindsaye Akhurst, manager of the Rescue Centre.

“We never know how successful each pup’s recovery will be, but our objective is always a full rehabilitation and return to the ocean,” said Akhurst. “Mo is an energetic and spirited animal, which served her well as she recuperated and will help her thrive now that she’s back in the ocean.”

Scientists are especially interested in northern fur seals (Callorhinus ursinus), which belong to a pelagic species that doesn’t often venture onto land. Pup production in the northern fur seals’ main breeding site, the Bering Sea, has dropped off by 50 per cent since the 1970s and continues to decrease by about 7 per cent annually.

The species is now listed as “vulnerable” under the U.S. Endangered Species Act and by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and as “threatened” by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). Ocean Wise scientists are participating in an international research program to determine the causes of the decline. Killer whale predation, competition with fisheries, and the effects of climate change (including changes in the type or location of available prey) are all possible culprits. By figuring out the causes of the northern fur seals’ decline, scientists may be able to come up with conservation strategies.

Mo may well provide these scientists with some insights. The public can also track her location via satellite here:https://rescue.ocean.org/map.

The Vancouver Aquarium’s Marine Mammal Rescue Centre, an Ocean Wise initiative, is Canada’s only dedicated marine mammal rescue facility and is one of the world’s largest of its kind. It rescues, rehabilitates and releases more than 150 marine mammals each year. If you see a marine mammal that you believe is in distress, do not approach it and keep pets away. Please call the Vancouver Aquarium’s Marine Mammal Rescue Centre at 604.258.SEAL (7325) or the Fisheries and Oceans Hotline at 1-800-465-4336 for assistance.

Members of the public are invited to symbolically “adopt” its patients at support.vanaqua.org/seals, which will help fund the Centre’s ongoing rehabilitation efforts. 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.

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