PORT MOODY, B.C. -- An hour into our search of the waters off Port Moody, and we got discouraged.

“Not an animal in sight. Nothing hauled out on the docks,” said Rod MacVicar at the helm of the Steller Pilot.

The director and co-founder of the Burrard Inlet Marine Enhancement Society guided the aluminum skiff beside docks and piers, but we saw little evidence that the area is usually bustling with seals hauling in and out of the water.

“We’d normally see close to 100,” he said, looking for any signs of life.

Only a couple of weeks ago, the seals would climb onto the log booms at the Flavelle sawmill. Seals have been doing that for more than 100 years.

But in August, the company announced it was shutting down. It has since towed the booms away.

“Nobody sent the seals a notification that their home was going to disappear,” said Andrew Trites, director of the UBC Marine Mammal Research Unit. “It’s quite a shock.”

Harbour seals can spend a long time in the water, but eventually need drier land to warm up. They haul-out to socialize, escape predators like transient killer whales, and give birth.

“If their pups are born in the water they’re going to drown, and so this has become quite an important pupping area for harbour seals,” said Trites.

“They’re much more safe hauling onto a log boom than they are on the intertidal muddy flats, where a dog, or a wolf, or a bear, or some other predator or wolverine could attack them,” added Macvicar.

The scientists hope the City of Port Moody and the sawmill will reach out to help.

Building a small platform to replace the booms would go a long way, and the costs could be shared.

Two hours into our search, we finally spotted a lone seal sunning itself on a private dock.

“Yeah he hangs out here quite often now,” said a man working on the dock. “But he’s pretty much the only one we see these days.”

Seals are resilient and will likely survive, but they’ll have to find new homes.