Question from Jennifer: Have you ever had wild sea lions or other wild animals come visit the lab?
We have had many encounters with wild visitors since establishing our research facility in 2003. Our most regular visitors are the many resident harbor seals that pop up numerous times each day.
Burrard Inlet is a thriving habitat for seals. It has salmon streams, and an abundance of shiner perch, sculpins, and other fish. The seals here also seem to feel safe from being attacked by transient orcas, which rarely visit this far inland.
We have also had a half dozen California sea lions investigate our girls. We nicknamed one male Calvin that hung around on the log boom near the sea lion holding pens for a month one summer. Another young male California sea lion remained in the area for two weeks last spring.
We have had two Steller sea lions visit the holding facility over the past nine years. On one occasion, Nigel, a member of the training staff, looked out the lab window and saw a female Steller outside one of the holding pens. Thinking we had forgotten to close a gate, he grabbed a bucket of fish and darted out the door. But a quick headcount revealed that all of our sea lions were accounted for. The wild female stayed around for an hour then moved on.
We had a female northern fur seal pay us a visit in September. She stayed in the area for the day, but wasn’t seen again. We also had a harbor porpoise zipping around in the shallows behind the lab, and have even seen black bears on the shores across the inlet from our lab—and a bobcat in the forest directly behind the lab!
And then there is the family of river otters that live under the dock, and in the floats of the boat houses in the marina. They are less interested in us and our sea lions, and seem to be primarily focused on the bounty of red rock crabs and Dungeness crabs that thrive around the holding facility and other parts of the marina. The otters litter the docks with their garbage of shells and carapaces, and even use our boats as otter latrines!
So yes, we have had many wild animals visit our lab at the Open Water Research Station.