The Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre released several rescued and rehabilitated seal pups on the Sunshine Coast Saturday, but it wasn’t an ordinary event.
Five of the seal pups have satellite tags, provided by Fisheries and Oceans Canada, affixed to their heads to track their post-release behaviour.
The seal pups were in the rescue centre’s care for between two and three months and most were brought to the facility at less than five days old.
Rescue centre manager Lindsaye Akhurst said it’s the first time the centre has been able to track released harbour seals.
“We placed one on a Steller sea lion in 2011 and a few other facilities have done it in the past, but this is the first time we’ve had the opportunity. It’s a fairly expensive project for us to undertake and thanks to Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the Vancouver Aquarium we were able to actually do it this year as a bit of a pilot study,” she said, noting each device is worth about $2,000. “That’s just for the device itself and then there’s a monthly fee for us to be able to get the data uploaded, and through a couple of different websites we’re able to monitor them.”
The devices were epoxyed to the seal pups’ pelage and will remain attached for six to nine months, until they moult. Akhurst said the satellite transmitters are fairly light-weight. They were attached a couple of days prior to the release and there were no signs the transmitters bothered the seals pups.
The rescue centre only releases seals that are healthy and have the ability to survive on their own, but it knows very little about their movements after they’re released.
Akhurst said the pilot project’s total cost for the five seals is about $20,000, but valuable information about where they go, as well as other information such as their survival rate, will be discovered.
The survival rate is estimated to be the same as it would be in the wild—within the first year, 50 per cent of harbour seals don’t make it, Akhurst noted.
The public will also be able to track the seal pups’ movements at seaturtle.org.
“It’s a tracking based website. The animals will be up there as soon as we start to get a little more data. It’ll probably be up there sometime this week,” she said.
The rescue centre is a hospital for sick, injured or orphaned marine animals and it deals with more than 150 stranded animals a year.
The seals with satellite tags were released with a few other seals without trackers during the centre’s annual volunteer-led release.
“It was very exciting for us to have the opportunity to release all of the seals, especially the five that do have the satellite tags on them. It’s the first time we’ve ever been able to and we’ve always wondered where they go afterwards. Now we’ll be able to find that out, so it’s very exciting,” Akhurst said.