Five seals equipped with satellite transmitters were released by the Vancouver Aquarium Wednesday morning, in order to track how rehabilitated animals fare once released into the wild.
The seals, which were cared for at the aquarium's Marine Mammal Rescue Centre, were transported in dog kennels and released at Porteau Cove in Howe Sound, just north of Vancouver on the Sea to Sky Highway, on Wednesday morning, along with two other seals that were not equipped with transmitters.
After staff opened the kennel doors, the wide-eyed, speckled pups looked around at their entourage for a few minutes before they bounced and squirmed their way into the water.
Tracking the seals
The satellite-linked tags, glued to the hair coat on their heads like high-tech Mohawk haircuts, cost about $1,500 each and another $200 a month to monitor. They have a battery life of about a year, but may fall off well before then.
The tags will transmit location data to researchers, allowing them to track the distribution, longevity and distance travelled by the pups.
Martin Haulena, the aquarium's staff veterinarian, said Wednesday that the information will help the team determine the ideal conditions for release and whether they need to make any changes to their rehabilitation program.
"I want to see how these animals do, and how they do kind of dictates what we do next year. Are there differences or changes that I want to do in their release criteria? Release them at different weights? Release them in different areas?" Haulena said just before the animals were released.
Rehabilitation work at the aquarium
Last year the aquarium also released five seals with transmitters, and tracked them as far as the northern tip of Vancouver Island before batteries in the transmitters expired.
Earlier this year, the aquarium also released a rehabilitated adult harbour porpoise, nicknamed Levi, with a satellite-linked transmitter attached to his dorsal fin.
The battery in Levi’s tag lasted for 70 days and provided a groundbreaking opportunity to study numerous aspects of harbour porpoise activity in the wild for over two months, said the statement.
Lindsaye Akhurst, manager of the aquarium's Marine Mammal Rescue Centre, said most seals come in during pupping season in July. The main goal of the team is to ensure they can forage for food and survive in the wild.
"It definitely can be quite tricky," she said. "A lot of these seals that come in have different personalities, and just like children, they learn at different paces as well. Sometimes they get the foraging right way. Sometimes it takes a little bit longer."
After 20 years of working on rehabilitation, Haulena said it's still "awesome" every time.
"So much work goes into these guys and they look so terrible when they come in."