With only a dog crate door and about 10 feet of beach between them and the wide open Salish Sea, seven seal pups were ready Tuesday morning to rock back to where they belong.
Ranging from two to three months old, the pups – rescued by the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre after being separated from their moms – were seconds away from being released back into the ocean at Iona Beach Park at the far north-west tip of Richmond.
Among them were “Peanut Butter Cup,” “Pumpkin Cheesecake,” and “Cinnamon Bun,” aptly named by centre staff and volunteers for the holidays.
And, to the tune of a five-second countdown by about 40 rescue centre volunteers and supporters, the gates on the first group of three flew open.
If it were a horse race, a false start would certainly have been called, with one gate opening at the count of two and one seal refusing to leave altogether.
The seal who got the head start wasted no time getting his feet wet, so to speak, while the other two – including the one who wedged himself inside the crate – eventually made it to the water’s edge before sliding into the ocean.
To the oohs and aahs of the crowd on the beach, the last four were released with less difficulty and off they went to restart their lives.
A few of them swam around in the shallows – only a few feet from the beach – staring at the crowd and perhaps wondering what the heck was going on, while others were long gone into bay.
It’s pretty normal (for them to hang around),” explained Lindsaye Akhurst, rescue centre manager, to the Richmond News.
“Some of them will just take off, some will hang around for a bit. They’re not pack mammals; they’re pretty solitary for the most part.”
Akhurst said the rescue centre has had the pups for two to three months, after being rescued from all across the B.C. coastline.
“Most of them have been separated from their moms, for a variety of reasons, so they’re usually quite dehydrated and skinny when they come to us; some are injured as well,” she added.
The seven pups were the last of 145 rehabilitated and released back into the ocean this year by the rescue centre, a not-for-profit Ocean Wise initiative, which describes itself as a “hospital for sick, injured or orphaned marine mammals.”
“Some of the ones here today are, I guess you could say, the class favourites,” Akhurst said.
“(Staff and volunteers) do get to know them, so it’s a special moment for all of us seeing them released back into their natural habitat.”
Akhurst said Iona Beach was chosen as a release site as very quiet, so the seals “can take their time.”