The UBC Marine Mammal Research Unit established the Open Water Research Laboratory in Port Moody, BC in 2003 to bridge the gap between the logistical limitations of field studies and the physical constraints of traditional work in an aquarium.

The Open Water Research Station is a floating facility designed to study free-swimming seals and sea lions.  Our goal at the Open Water Lab is to conduct research that ultimately helps the wild population of Steller sea lions. We are testing the hypothesis that sea lions are not obtaining enough food, and how their nutritional needs are affected by time of year and the distribution of their prey.  We are also developing and testing new research techniques to take to the field.


Our Open Water Stellers are Hazy, Sitka, Yasha, and Boni.  These four females are ambassadors for conservation in the North Pacific.  They are housed in two floating habitats with access to water and dry haul-out, and are allowed to freely swim and dive each day.

Our sea lions wear a harness that carries scientific instruments when they swim freely.  They are trained to dive to feeding stations that simulate schools of fish as deep as 60 m (~200 feet or the height of a 20 story highrise), and return to the researchers when called.

This is the only facility in the world that performs unrestrained open-water dives to depths experienced by Steller sea lions in the wild.

The sea lions are trained by the Vancouver Aquarium staff, and data are collected by a team of researchers from the University of British Columbia.  Our scientists collaborate with researchers from all over the world—from Scotland to Australia, as well as the United States, Japan, and other parts of Canada.