Vancouver, B.C. – After a rescue effort by concerned residents of the small west coast community of Ahousaht, an emaciated and out-of-its-range northern fur seal pup (Callorhinus ursinus) is now being treated at the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre, presented by Port of Vancouver.
“While northern fur seals can be found in B.C., it’s a pelagic species, which means they spend most of their time far offshore. We don’t often see them close to land,” said Lindsaye Akhurst, manager of the Rescue Centre. “When he was spotted, this little guy was exhibiting unnatural behaviour, appeared emaciated and was spending time in a location with heavy boat traffic.”
Thought to be approximately seven months old, the pup was rescued with permission from Fisheries and Oceans Canada, transferred by Vancouver Aquarium research associate Wendy Szaniszlo, and arrived at the Rescue Centre on Saturday, on a flight donated by Orca Air. Since being admitted, he has been under intensive observation and treated with subcutaneous fluids, gastric protectants and antibiotics.
“He arrived in poor condition, emaciated and dehydrated. He’s much smaller than we would expect a pup of this age to be,” said Akhurst. “He has already shown some improvement, he’s able to digest solids, is maintaining hydration and starting to gain weight. We believe he is stable enough now for a more thorough physical exam that we’ll perform in the next day or so.”
Although the northern fur seal is not yet listed under the Species at Risk Act, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) has assessed its status as Threatened. Their full range extends throughout the Pacific Rim from Japan to the Channel Islands of California. There are six established rookery sites in the North Pacific region, where Northern fur seals mate, give birth and nurse their young. At present, the species does not have an established rookery in Canada. The four- to five-month breeding season is followed by a seven- to eight-month pelagic foraging phase, where the animals spend their time feeding mainly in offshore waters. The waters of British Columbia are considered an important foraging area; the largest numbers occur in waters off B.C. from January through to June, approximately 20-150 km offshore.
The Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre has only responded once before to a northern fur seal stranding: Nippy, rescued in 1960, was the very first patient of the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre.
Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre
The Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre, presented by the Port of 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/mmr
Note: photos and footage of the northern fur seal are available upon request.