“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” That’s the message Dr. Martin Haulena, Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre head veterinarian, wants to spread about the impacts of ocean debris on marine life.

Dr. Haulena and a team from our Marine Mammal Rescue Centre, presented by Port Metro Vancouver, and staff from Fisheries and Oceans Canada, successfully disentangled two California sea lions this past Wednesday off the east coast of Vancouver Island near Fanny Bay.

Sea Lion Rescue, Vancouver Aquarium

Dr. Martin Haulena speaks with the team before heading out.

“We count one sea lion rescue a day as a success, but to disentangle two in one day is really rewarding,” said Dr. Haulena, who is the only professionally trained veterinarian in Canada able to perform these challenging rescues.

Over the past two decades, Dr. Haulena has helped develop a precise drug combination to temporarily sedate a sea lion so it may be carefully handled. The procedure to remove the entangled gear often takes place in the water, from a boat, with a floating animal. “These rescue efforts involving sea lions are extremely challenging and can be very dangerous,” said Dr. Haulena. Rescue efforts depend upon ideal weather and ocean conditions, require specialized equipment, a team of expert staff, and invaluable assistance and boat support from Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

Sea Lion Disentanglement rescue by Vancouver Aquarium

Dr. Haulena works to disentangle and treat a sea lion’s injuries.

With two sea lions successfully disentangled and daylight running short, the rescue team tried for a third – a Steller sea lion – which are listed as a species of special concern. Unfortunately, the sea lion they darted did not get sedated enough to approach and swam away. Three additional entangled sea lions were also spotted late in the day.

With six entangled animals sighted in such a small area within a week, it is clear this is a serious problem. It’s estimated there are as many as 400 sea lions snared in trash along our coastline. “This is a human-caused problem, and we’d like to save all of them,” said Dr. Haulena, “but these rescues require an enormous amount of resources and funding.” The cost for the Vancouver Aquarium team and gear is approximately $2,000 per rescue. That does not include the staff, boats and fuel provided by Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

Sea Lion Disentanglement by Marine Mammal Rescue Team

This was removed from around a sea lion’s neck.

We can all help to prevent marine life entanglement by properly disposing of our waste and ‘losing the loop’ when we’re throwing away packing straps, ropes, wires and plastics. You can also join a shoreline cleanup in your neighbourhood, to help keep debris from washing into our waterways.

It’s important to note that sea lions are large, wild animals and rescues should not be attempted by the public. If you see a marine mammal in distress, call our Marine Mammal Rescue Centre at 604 258 SEAL (7325). The Vancouver Aquarium is a self-supporting, non-profit society and does not receive ongoing funds for rescue efforts such as these. Please support our sea lion disentanglement efforts by donating today.

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2 Responses

  1. Gaby oliver

    Presently watching “Canada-over the edge” about BC mainland.
    Featured Van Aquarium .


    Why are the rescued baby seals forced feed by sticking
    A plastic tube down their throats to their stomach.

    Why are they not baby bottle feed mimicking being feed by the
    Mother , plus it exercises their jaw/mouth muscles..

    Looking forward to your reply.

    • Vancouver Aquarium

      Hi Gaby, thank you for your inquiry.

      The increased time and handling of bottle feeding increases the risk of habituation and thus can negatively impact their chances once released. It is also often difficult to get seals to accept a nipple (due to the recessed teats of a mother seal) so it’s often not very effective for ensuring proper nutrition amounts and administration of meds. Lastly many of our pups are too ill to want to eat when they first arrive, and nutrition is a huge part of successful recovery.

      Hope that helps to answer your question!


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