Last summer my family and I were fortunate enough to have a chance to visit and tour the stellar sea lion open water research lab that has partnered UBC and the Vancouver Aquarium to study why the stellar sea lion populations in Alaska and the North Pacific are declining. Coincidentally, the sea lion population around our coast seems to be thriving. The facility is closed to the public and as a result not many people even know it’s there on a small arm of the Burrard Inlet.
It was a very rewarding experience to learn about these incredibly intelligent creatures and very inspiring to hear from the researchers and caregivers who do so much to protect them and to help preserve their existence for decades to come.
A significant reason for these mammals living at the research centre is for them to provide information to biologists about their habits, their diets, their abilities and especially their ability to dive and the amount of carbon dioxide they expel after dives. Learning about calories burned at different dive depths is a big part of the data they collect. The hope is to figure out if it’s the food they eat that is causing their decline and if they have changed their eating habits, what caused that change.
These wonderful creatures are big – no enormous – and they are loud and they smell – a lot – but they are magnificent creatures and they are capable of learning so much and teaching us so much in the process of working with those who are studying them.
When I was little I would hear them in the inlet and see them being transported up the Indian Arm as they excitedly anticipated their dives in the open water several kilometres from their home. It wasn’t until years later that I understood their purpose and the importance of those trips.
After watching what these researchers do and what they are trying to accomplish, it’s confirmed for me that this is exactly the kind of work I hope to do one day – working with animals and making an impact on their survival and their well being for the future. I have a huge appreciation for what they do and am very grateful that there are people in the world who want to dedicate their lives to jobs like this one.
A special thanks to Dr. Andrew Trites of the University of British Columbia’s marine mammal research unit for giving me the education of a lifetime! If you want to read more about this topic you can start here.