Less than two months ago, a young adult sea lion — affectionately named Flash Gordon — was found off the shore of Ucluelet with a fish hook in his esophagus and and a lure hanging out of his mouth. On Wednesday, he swam back into Sooke Bay happy as a clam.
He was originally discovered by passersby who called in the situation to various organizations, and the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre soon got wind of it.
“He had lost a lot of weight in the wild, and was very lethargic and dehydrated,” said Lindsaye Akhurst, manager at the rescue centre.
“We anesthetized him, then got him an endoscopy (camera into the esophagus) to see exactly where (the fishing line hook) was.”
The rescue marked the first successful time the centre has performed a rehabilitation and release. Akhurst said they do receive a lot of calls about injured marine animals, but they are often hard to locate and even harder to capture.
“We had a vet on site to immobilize the animal by a dart, and that’s what made it so successful. Instead of him swimming out to sea, he went to land and fell asleep,” she said.
The Vancouver Aquarium team, working with the Fisheries and Ocean Canada Marine Mammal Response Network, then transported Flash Gordon back to their offsite facility on the Mainland. He stayed for about six weeks before returning to the release site off of West Coast Road — the exact location is not being released to prevent possible disturbance of the sensitive environment. Akhurst was there to see the sea lion return to his natural habitat along with a crew from the aquarium. Loud barks of anticipation could be heard inside the truck before his massive cage was lowered to the ground. The door swung open, and Flash calmly made his way down the path.
“It was nice to see him saunter down back into the water without any hesitation,” said Akhurst, who added everything went pretty smoothly.
“Each time is so different when you release an animal, you just never know. But yeah, it couldn’t have gone any better really.”
Flash bobbed his head above the water a few times near the shoreline before swimming out further. Akhurst said he would likely stay nearby to get his bearings and check things out before venturing elsewhere. He wouldn’t be lonely, though — two other California sea lions and even a harbour seal pup were spotted on the same day.