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Vancouver Aquarium reveals new Steller sea lion exhibit

The aquarium says the new exhibit will help scientists conduct research while educating the public at the same time

Ashby and Rogue on the deck at Vancouver Aquarium's new Steller sea lion exhibit on July 6, 2017.

Wanyee Li/Metro

Ashby and Rogue on the deck at Vancouver Aquarium's new Steller sea lion exhibit on July 6, 2017.

The Vancouver Aquarium’s former beluga habitat has new tenants.

On Thursday, staff showed media a new Stellar Sea Lion exhibit called Steller Bay, where visitors can learn about the two sea lions living there and the plight of their wild cousins. 

The pool used to house belugas but the remaining two died last fall and the Park Board banned the aquarium from bringing in any more cetaceans into the facility in May. The aquarium is fighting that ban in court.

But for now, Steller Bay is home to Ashby and Rogue, two female Steller sea lions that used to spend some of their time in a research pool at the aquarium that isn’t on display to the public.

Steller sea lions Ashby and Rogue interact with trainer Danielle Hyson at the Vancouver Aquarium.

Wanyee Li/Metro

Steller sea lions Ashby and Rogue interact with trainer Danielle Hyson at the Vancouver Aquarium.

The new exhibit is part of the aquarium’s mandate to both conduct research and educate the public, said Dolf DeJong, general manager at the aquarium.

“We’re going to keep looking at the question we need to answer, and finding ways to answer them right in the public’s eye. [We are] bringing science to people, bringing that passion for animals to people, and really making that connection.”

Steller sea lions Ashby and Rogue swim by the underwater viewing windows at the Vancouver Aquarium.

Wanyee Li/Metro

Steller sea lions Ashby and Rogue swim by the underwater viewing windows at the Vancouver Aquarium.

Visitors can also watch the sea lion’s ballet-like gracefulness underwater in a viewing area downstairs.

While B.C.’s population is robust, Steller sea lions in Alaska are listed as endangered and the world’s population has decreased by 80 per cent since 1980. The University of British Columbia has partnered with the aquarium for more than 25 years to conduct research that aims to explain the species sudden downfall.

Vancouver Aquarium marine mammal trainers Billy Lasby and Danielle Hyson work with Steller sea lions Rogue and Ashby.

Wanyee Li/Metro

Vancouver Aquarium marine mammal trainers Billy Lasby and Danielle Hyson work with Steller sea lions Rogue and Ashby.

UBC professor Andrew Trites has headed that research since the beginning and also studies four sea lions at an open water research station in Port Moody. In partnership with the aquarium, he has been able to research the species' metabolism and development.

The animals in his study are taken as pups from Triangle Island, north of Vancouver Island, which is home to the largest breeding population of Steller sea lions in the world. Training animals from a young age is essential to these kinds of studies, he explained.

“To collect data from Stellar sea lions, or any animal, the animal needs to be very calm or relaxed. It basically means raising the animal,” he said.

Rogue is one of two Steller sea lions on display at the Vancouver Aquarium.

Wanyee Li/Metro

Rogue is one of two Steller sea lions on display at the Vancouver Aquarium.

Trites expects the other four Steller sea lions that live in the aquarium’s research pool to join Ashby and Rogue at Stellar Bay in the future.

“There are two other females, and two other males as well. They are all part of the research program,” he said.

“I expect to see all of them here. It’ll be a true ballet.”

Ashby the Steller sea lion jumps off a rock as directed by trainer Danielle Hyson at the Vancouver Aquarium.

Wanyee Li/Metro

Ashby the Steller sea lion jumps off a rock as directed by trainer Danielle Hyson at the Vancouver Aquarium.

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