June 3, 2013
Ten years ago this month, we began a “grand experiment” by moving our first two sea lions (Sitka and Boni) from the Vancouver Aquarium to the Open Water Research Station. This day kicked off a memorable decade of scientific research but, at the time, no one knew quite what to expect. How would the sea lions – who had been raised most of their lives in an Aquarium – react to life in the open ocean?
The Open Water Research Station starting from 2003 when it opened
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The journey for the sea lions began with a truck ride down to a boat launch, where they took their very first journey in the Steller Shuttle to the Open Water Research Station. They were then allowed to explore their new homes.
Nigel Waller recounts his memory of their first encounters with their ocean environment;
“During that first day, while the sea lions were exploring their new home, a lion’s mane jellyfish (Cyanea capillata) floated into their holding pen. Having never seen one before, Sitka decided to investigate it. Lacking opposable thumbs, she explored it the way sea lions explore everything, with her mouth; this caused a great deal of frothing. After our veterinarian confirmed that there was no health risk, we all had a good laugh about it.”
Does Sitka now avoid the lion’s manes that happen to float into her pen?
“Oh no. She and Yasha seem to actually enjoy snacking on them and Sitka doesn’t seem to have the same reaction as she did that first day. Maybe the lion’s manes are like spicy food and, once they get used to the sting, they enjoy the burn.”