This is Levi (third in a series)

Levi Release Day - Vancouver Aquarium

Levi in transportation back to the Saanich Inlet where he was found and released. Photo credits: Vancouver Aquarium

On March 26, Levi, an adult male harbour porpoise, was discovered by a woman on the shore of the Saanich Inlet. He was found out of water, stranded on a reef, suffering internal injuries, including damage from being on land for so long. Veterinarians later also found a parasite infection.

He was rescued from the reef and taken to the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre at the Vancouver Aquarium on March 27. He was placed into a special floating sling in a tank, as he could no longer swim due to his injuries, and then put under a 24-hour watch by staff and volunteers.

According to a March press release from the Vancouver Aquarium, adult “porpoises have historically had a very poor chance of recovery,” usually due to ailments such as internal health issues like those afflicting Levi.

A few months prior to Levi’s arrival, another porpoise at the rescue centre, Theodore, died after two months of care in October 2012.

In the press release for that porpoise on Oct. 4, 2012, Dr. Martin Haulena, the Vancouver Aquarium’s veterinarian, was quoted as saying, “only about 10 per cent of stranded cetaceans that are brought to rehabilitation centres survive.” (Cetaceans include dolphins, porpoises, and whales.) Those statistics didn’t look that good for Levi.

Over the next couple of months, veterinarians tried to find the cause of Levi’s stranding, and in the process, they diagnosed him with a large parasitic lung infection, as well as potential hearing loss.

It wasn’t until mid-July that Levi showed he could use echolocation again, which is like biological sonar that porpoises use to locate objects. Echolocation works by sound waves bouncing off objects, and is used to navigate as well as hunt, so it is a key skill. Levi was heard echolocating using a tool called a hydrophone, which essentially is a microphone for hearing underwater sounds.

In early August, Levi was deemed to have adequate hearing compared to other porpoises his age.

He had been swimming on his own since late May and was making others improvements, such as starting to forage for his own food in early July. He became stronger and was able to swim in the largest rehabilitation tank, improving his muscle strength gradually.

Before Dr. Haulena would release Levi, he wanted him to be able to find his own food, avoid predators and not be a threat to other marine wildlife.

In early September, it was determined that Levi met those requirements and could be released back into the wild by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

Levi was fitted with a satellite-tracking device called a SPLASH tag and taken back to the place he was found, Saanich Inlet. The satellite tag will track his location, depth and duration of dives.

Levi Release Day - Vancouver Aquarium

Levi is being held by two of the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre team in the Saanich Inlet before he is released back to the wild. His SPLASH tag can be seen on his dorsal fin here. Photo credits: Vancouver Aquarium.

Staff and volunteers dedicated 4,100 hours of service to Levi, and the hard work paid off as Levi became “the first cetacean to be successfully released into the wild by a Canadian team.”

Facilities such as the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre are unmatched in this province. Without a care centre like this, our knowledge regarding the well-being, care and habits of marine mammals would be much smaller. Being able to tag successful releases like Levi with satellite-trackers, will help scientists to further understand how marine mammals act in the wild. This is huge for marine science, as it can be a challenge to get an accurate observation of something like this in the field.

“Harbour porpoises haven’t been studied as closely as other marine mammals off the coast of B.C., so this information is proving to be significant,” a blog post from the Vancouver Aquarium said in October.

Again, this is an example of the positive impacts that human beings have on wildlife.

• • •

If you come across an injured or abandoned marine mammal, the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre asks that you keep your distance and contact them at 604-258-SEAL (7325).

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This is the third in a series of articles exploring the effects – good and bad – of people on wildlife. Read part one and part two.


Journalism student at Kwantlen Polytechnic University. Lover of social media, photography, and reading the news.

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