A stranded, sickly Guadalupe fur seal, rescued last week off the coast of Vancouver Island, far from its normal range, is recovering at the Vancouver Aquarium.
The seal, which is emaciated and refusing food, is normally found off Mexico's Guadalupe Island off the coast of Baja California. Aquarium officials aren't sure how it made its way to the waters off Ucluelet.
Lindsaye Akhurst, manager of the aquarium's Marine Mammal Rescue Centre, said the animal was spotted Jan. 20. Officers from Parks Canada and Fisheries and Oceans Canada worked with aquarium staff to capture and transport the seal from Vancouver Island to the aquarium's rescue centre.
"It was quite underweight," Akhurst said. "He's very lethargic."
Aquarium staff administered fluids and antibiotics and tried to get the seal to eat, but it showed no interest.
The seal spent Friday resting beside a pool. Staff plan to offer it more food and fluids and run tests this weekend.
Dr. Martin Haulena, the aquarium's head veterinarian, said it is "extremely rare," for a Guadalupe fur seal to land in B.C. waters. "We've never responded to one before," she said in a statement.
Despite its lethargy, Dr. Haulena said the seal is "responsive and aware of his surroundings."
Guadalupe fur seals are a threatened species in the U.S. Last fall, the seals were washing up sick and dead along the California coast at a rate eight times higher than normal, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Scientists think warmer waters in the eastern Pacific Ocean may be behind the seal strandings. An unusually warm mass of seawater stretching along much of the west coast has affected marine life. Some species of fish, which the fur seals consume, may have moved farther north than usual to avoid the warmer waters.
Aquarium officials will send tissue samples from the stranded fur seal to NOAA scientists in the U.S. to test for exposure to toxic algae. The results may take several months.