Aquafacts / Marine Mammal Rescue Program

About AquaFacts

AquaFacts contain information on the Aquarium animals or other Aquarium-related topics. We’ve compiled the most popular questions about our Marine Mammal Rescue Program. Please email our librarian for other inquiries.

Quick info


Animals rescued per year


Money spent per year on rescues


Maximum animals under care

What animals does the program accept?

The program will rescue any marine mammal. In the past, we have worked with harbour seals, Steller sea lions, northern fur seals, northern elephant seals, sea otters, and some cetacean (whale, dolphin and porpoise) species. We have also been involved in the rescue of several sea turtles.

Harbour seals are not endangered, so why do we rescue so many of them?

It is the humane thing to do. Many times the animals need rescuing as a result of human activity and interference; for example, seals could be suffering from injury due to boat strikes or dog bites, or pups may have been separated from their mothers by people on the beach. Researchers can also use blood samples and other data acquired through the care of these animals to provide information about the health of animals and their habitats. Should a problem arise in the harbour seal population in the future, there will be a significant amount of information for scientists to consult.

What dangers do marine mammals face?

Oil spills: oil is especially dangerous to sea otters as it penetrates their fur and destroys its buoyancy and insulating capacity.

Encounters with boats: boats contribute to marine noise pollution and can strike marine mammals.

Entanglement in fishing gear and marine debris: seal pups that have swallowed fish hooks have been admitted to the Rescue Centre.

Beaching: we do not know why cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) beach themselves, but when on land, their immense weight can crush their organs.

Illness: malnourishment is the most common illness and prevails with orphaned seal pups. Marine mammals are also vulnerable to viral, bacterial, fungal, or parasitic infections.

Pollution: marine debris (see above) and chemical pollutants are found in the ocean, impacting marine mammals or the food they eat.

Disability: some marine mammals have physical disabilities that affect their survival in the ocean.

Abandonment: on rare occasions, marine mammals abandon their young. Note: be cautious when identifying animals as “abandoned.” When hunting for food, mother seals can leave pups onshore for many hours and may not return if they see someone near the pup.

What steps does the Aquarium take when accepting, caring for, and releasing animals?

The Rescue Team is very careful to only admit animals that are in need of assistance (sick, injured, or legitimately abandoned). It is important to contact the Aquarium before taking any action. Trained rescue team members will decide if a marine mammal needs rescue or treatment.

Rehabilitation occurs away from the main Aquarium site. This prevents the spread of disease and parasites. Staff members and volunteers must undergo a four-hour quarantine, and must shower and change their clothing when traveling between the Rescue Centre and the Aquarium. While animals are at the Rescue Centre, care is taken to not habituate them to humans—they are not “cuddled” nor handled excessively. It is important to keep them “wild” so that their release will be successful.
Before release, animals are assessed by the Rescue Team, including the veterinarian, to determine whether they are clinically healthy and free from disease. Seal pups must also reach a certain size, and have passed “fish trials” to determine whether they can hunt and care for themselves. Rehabilitated seals are flipper tagged with an orange plastic tag so they can be identified when spotted again. We hope to obtain the resources to enable radio or satellite tagging of some individual animals in the future.

Do’s and don'ts

Do contact the Aquarium’s Rescue Centre at 604-258-SEAL.

Do support the Marine Mammal Rescue Program. Donate Now.

Do visit the Marine Mammal Rescue Website for further information on the program and the animals admitted.

Don’t try to put a pinniped (seal or sea lion) back into the water if it is on land. Pinnipeds regularly haul out onto beaches or rocky areas to rest, socialize, or bask in the sun. They should be left alone.

Don’t feed marine mammals in the wild. Seal pups are lactose intolerant, and can become very sick if given milk products. It is in the best interest of the animals to wait until you have spoken with our rescue specialists.

Don’t approach wild marine mammals too closely; if they are stressed, they can be dangerous as they try to protect themselves. Even small seal pups can bite; this can be a health hazard.

For more information, contact our librarian:

Phone: 604-659-3404
Email: [email protected]