Rehabilitated northern fur seal Flores bolted into the ocean off Ucluelet’s Little beach after being released on Monday. (Photo - Wendy Szaniszlo)

Rehabilitated northern fur seal Flores bolted into the ocean off Ucluelet’s Little beach after being released on Monday. (Photo - Wendy Szaniszlo)

UPDATED: Rehabilitated northern fur seal released in Ucluelet

“He is the feistiest little man I’ve ever met, which is awesome.”

A happy and healthy northern fur seal made history as it sprinted off Ucluelet’s Little Beach and into the open ocean on Monday.

Flores is believed to be the first northern fur seal ever rehabilitated and released by the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre.

The young animal was in rough shape when he arrived at the centre on Jan. 21 after being discovered washed up and in distress on Flores Island off the West Coast of Vancouver Island.

“He was really tiny and really lethargic,” Vancouver Aquarium veterinary fellow Barbara Linnehan told the Westerly News.

She said the roughly eight-month-old Flores should have weighed about 30 kilograms, but only weighed only six.

“Six kilograms is basically their birth weight,” she said. “We had him on pretty intense supportive care at the beginning with some antibiotics and a lot of fluids to get him rehydrated and, of course, food to get him fattened up.”

Flores was also blind in his right eye, suffering from blood circulation issues and received treatment for frostbite on his back flippers.

“We ended up having to actually do a digit amputation on one of his frost bitten back toes, which he recovered really well from,” Linnehan said adding tests were done to ensure the one-eyed animal could make its way around ocean habitats.

“Based on watching him eat and how he got around we decided that even though he can’t see out of that right eye we think he can do just fine navigating and foraging out in the wild.”

In addition to Flores’ medical issues, Linnehan said his age was a concern as the Rescue Centre team was worried about whether he would become habituated to humans, though that concern quickly dissipated as the animal consistently proved a grumpy attitude towards his handlers.

“He is the feistiest little man I’ve ever met, which is awesome,” Linnehan said.

“We worry when they’re that young and we are rehabilitating them. We don’t want them to get to friendly towards people because we don’t want to release him and have him going up to people thinking they’re going to feed him or provide him with anything. That’s where we run into trouble with people getting bit.”

She said the veterinary team’s confidence in Flores’ potential release began to grow around March as his fur grew back, his weight increased, and his orneriness remained.

“He was really still feisty and not habituated towards us. He had gained his fur back. He had gained weight really, really, well, everything else had healed up really well and his blood work looked perfect,” Linnehan said. “All of those things came together for us to decide that we think he will thrive in the wild, he doesn’t need to stay in our care.”

Harbour Air donated a charter flight to get the animal from Vancouver to Ucluelet and Linnehan said Flores wasted no time and shed no tears as he raced away from his rescuers at Little Beach on June 5.

“When we released him, he was like ‘Goodbye, see you never.’ He didn’t want to stick around and hang out with us,” Linnehan said. “That’s the attitude we want so he can go back into the wild, not associate humans with food and thrive on his own.”

She added Ucluelet was a solid launching pad to release Flores because of its access to open ocean and that a tracking device was placed on the fur seal that will allow the Rescue Centre to track his movements until he molts in the fall.

“We’re confident that he’ll be able to meet up in the right areas with other fur seals and, hopefully, go on to live a totally normal fur seal life,” she said adding that rehabilitating Flores was a valuable educational experience for the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre’s team.

“We absolutely learned as much as possible from him while he was here so, in the future, we’re even better equipped and know more about these guys,” she said.