After two months of rehabilitation, a sea lion found emaciated near Campbell River in October was set free Friday.

“[It’s] bittersweet. We’ve been working around the clock for two months, getting him better, and to see him go today, is just such a great feeling,” said Lindsaye Akhurst, the manager of the Vancouver Aquarium’s Marine Mammal Rescue Centre.

The young male named by staff as ‘Campbell’, is estimated to be three to four years-old. When found, he was dehydrated, emaciated and weighed only about 200 lbs.

The Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre says blood-work, urinalysis, x-rays and ultrasounds showed some abnormalities in his blood consistent with renal changes, as well as some degree of pneumonia in his lungs and an old fracture to his left hind flipper.

After gaining more than 100 pounds and being healthy again, Campbell was returned to the wild at Otter Point Resort on Friday.

Akhurst says Otter Point was a good spot for Campbell’s released because it’s an area with a large population of California sea lions, with a strong food source.

Campbell’s release comes near the end of the biggest rescue season in history for the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre with more than 200 harbour seals, three sea lions, a fur seal, a sea otter and others admitted or treated in the field.

For those who spent months nursing him back to health, it’s an emotional moment.

“When he was coming down the ramp I don’t think he wanted to turn back.” adds Akhurst, “He had a few great months at the spa but I think he was ready to go back home.”

Staff have tagged Campbell so they can keep an eye on him but they hope this is the last time he will need their help.

Isabelle Raghem