It’s been a busy year for marine mammal rescues along B.C.’s coast.
The Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre said almost 200 sick, stranded and injured marine mammals have been saved along the province’s coastal waters — along with one endangered beluga whale that was returned to the ocean on the east coast.
So far in 2017, the team has rescued 191 harbour seals. The previous record was 174 harbour seals in 2005. While harbour seals are known to give birth to their pups through the summer months and then leave their newborns to rest while they forage for food, the rescue centre team said they take steps to ensure animals are not removed from nature unless treatment is necessary.
WATCH: Marine Mammal Centre rescue animals
This year, most of the rescue centre’s patients did need medical attention with seal pups being admitted with injuries that ranged from dehydration and emaciation to animal attacks.
“We’re happy whenever we can save an animal, no matter how big or small. It’s why we do what we do,” Lindsaye Akhurst, manager of the Rescue Centre said in a release.
“When we can alleviate suffering and save a life, it’s gratifying … and we’re saving a lot of lives this year.”
In June a tiny, two to four-week-old male sea otter was found swimming alone in open waters off northern Vancouver Island. The pup was taken in by the marine mammal rescue centre because he needed 24-hour care, just as he would from his mother. Staff rotated through shifts in feeding, bathing and grooming the newborn pup, which was named Hardy.
The pup was picked up by boaters after the sea otter approached them and then followed their boat, while making sounds. According to the report to the Rescue Centre, there were no adult sea otters in the area and once the pup was brought to Port Hardy, officers from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) arranged for the sea otter to be taken to the aquarium.
The sea otter pup is one example of the types of mammals saved by the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre. Other animals saved in 2017 include:
- Flores, a northern fur seal admitted in January, rehabilitated and released to the ocean in June;
- Bella Bella, a female Steller sea lion pup still in care;
- Senor Cinco, an adult California sea lion found on Spanish Banks beach on May 5, shot twice in the face and now blind;
- and a female Steller sea lion disentangled from marine debris in the field.
Along with caring for the mammals, every rescue helps the centre’s scientists to better understand the state of the province’s coastal ecosystem and what threats the animals are facing.
“Diagnosing, treating and releasing these animals increases our understanding of the threats these species face,” Akhurst explained.
“Every animal we work with can shed further insight into contaminants, biotoxins, and infectious diseases that can also affect ecosystem health.”
So far, 38 out of the 191 rescued harbour seals have already been returned to the ocean.