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Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre

As a member of the Vancouver Aquarium, I received a special invite to visit their Marine Mammal Rescue Centre. The Marine Mammal Rescue Centre (MMR) has been around since 2004 and "is a hospital for sick, injured or orphaned marine mammals which are rehabilitated for release back into their natural habitat.*" It is currently a temporary home for 88 harbour seals, and Chester, the rescued false killer whale calf.

Main command at the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre
Sherry, the volunteer who showed us around, gave an insightful tour of what the good folks at the Vancouver Aquarium, a Not-For-Profit organization, do on a daily basis. 

MMR is a quarantined area and all visitors, staff and volunteers are asked to dip their shoes in disinfectant foot baths (grey bin).


How They Are Rescued

Current residents at MMR.
All of the animals who arrive at the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre have been identified by members of the public as abandoned or injured. The Vancouver Aquarium is called and the rescue team makes a decision to send help immediately or monitor the situation. When an animal is injured and requires immediate help, the Vancouver Aquarium sends staff to transport the animals to the MMR. In the event where an animal may be abandoned, the Vancouver Aquarium monitors the situation. If the mother does not return within a specified period of time (usually the result of injury or death), the animals are considered abandoned and transported to the MMR. If the rescued animals (mostly baby harbour seals) were left on their own, they will be preyed upon by their predators.

Look at the fun names: Bob Marley, Elvis, and Lithium.

A Second Chance

Once the animals have been transported to the MMR, they receive a checkup in the Med Shed and if necessary, they are treated for injuries.

The Medical Shed where all rescues are assessed upon arrival.

Then, they are transferred to "Stage 1: Intensive Care" where staff and volunteers keep a close eye on the new arrivals.

Refuge for the sick, injured and abandoned.

While we were there, we were fortunate to witness the staff tube-feeding the baby seals a milk matrix formula, which consists of milk powder, salmon oil and water.

Dinner time!

Once the harbour seals are healthier, they are transferred out of intensive care to a secondary area where they will gain more weight or further recover. At the time of my visit, there were two injured harbour seals recuperating at the rescue center. As the harbour seals continue to gain weight and recover, they are transferred to a shared tank (with other harbour seals) where they learn essential skills for survival upon their release.

Learning social skills.

Upon reaching 30 kg in weight and having mastered the essential survival skills, the harbour seals are released back into the wild. According to Sherry, most of the seals graduate and leave MMR by October of each year.

Get better soon Chester! We are all rooting for your recovery.

While we were there, I was also able to catch a glimpse of Chester, the rescued false killer whale. Chester was rescued from Chesterman Beach in Tofino in July and when he arrived at the MMR, he was underweight, malnourished and suffered serious injuries. The team at Vancouver Aquarium was instrumental in giving him a second chance. When I visited the MMR in mid-August, I spotted Chester's fin (I stood on my tip toes) as he was swimming around in his tank. In an effort to help Chester with his recovery, we were not allowed to visit with him as the steps leading up to his temporary home was off-limits and guarded by two staff.

Chester is monitored 24/7 by staff and volunteers.

Naming The Rescues

Each harbour seal is identified with name tags on their bins.
There is a standardized naming convention in place. PV stands for Phoca Vitulina, which is the scientific name for the harbour seals. The number 14 is for the year in which the seals arrived at MMR. The number 95 indicates that they are the 95th rescue for the specified year. Their gender and name are also clearly labelled.
According to Sherry, each year they have a different theme to name the rescued harbour seals. This year, the theme is elements (and musicians, it seems). My three favorite names are Boron, Aluminium and Snopp Dogg! In past years, they named rescued harbour seals after vegetables and Crayola Crayons. 

Chester, as you likely have guessed, got his name from the place where he was rescued: Chesterman Beach.

How You Can Help

The Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre relies on the generous support of corporate sponsors and private donors. But most of all, they are supported by their many loyal and devoted volunteers, like Sherry. 

Face-painting (on left) and refreshments (right) donated by Coca Cola and Sysco Foods.

To donate to the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Center, please visit

Without generous donors, none of this would be possible.

To volunteer with the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre, please visit According to Sherry, the Vancouver Aquarium recruits volunteers three times a year. The time commitment is four hours a week.

If you spot a marine mammal in distress, call 604-258-SEAL (7325).

Learn More

To learn more about the Marine Mammal Rescue Center and the Vancouver Aquarium, please visit

Disclosure: I was not asked or nor was I compensated by the Vancouver Aquarium to write this post. All members of the Vancouver Aquarium were invited to visit the Marine Mammal Research Center which took place in mid-August, 2014.

* From Vancouver Aquarium's website.

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