Steller sea lions, once a common sight along the west coast, have seen their populations worldwide decline by as much as 75 per cent since 1980. They’re now considered a species of special concern under the Species at Risk Act, which makes the sea lion disentanglement work by our Marine Mammal Rescue Centre team vital to help sustain this dwindling species.

Yesterday, a team led by Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre head veterinarian Dr. Martin Haulena and Vancouver Aquarium research associate Wendy Szaniszlo headed to the east coast of Vancouver Island to attempt more rescues in the ongoing project.

Sea lion rescue by Vancouver Aquarium

Dr. Haulena prepres to adminster anesthetic to an entangled Steller sea lion.

While temperatures were breaking records for January on the mainland, it was foggy and overcast on the water off Vancouver Island. Hundreds of Steller sea lions call the area home, but isolating those tangled in marine debris can prove to be challenging.

Funding provided by the Canadian Wildlife Federation and Clayoquot Biosphere Trust has allowed research associate Wendy Szaniszlo to document Steller sea lions, which are getting entangled in marine debris, while Dr. Haulena has worked to develop a safe, reliable method for disentangling these large and often fierce creatures.

With assistance from staff at Fisheries and Oceans Canada, one Steller sea lion was successfully disentangled today before fog rolled in and prevented further rescues. The culprit: your everyday white packing strap, commonly found on boxes packed for delivery.

Sea lion disentanglement work by Vancouver Aquarium

Everyday debris can find its way into our waterways and harm marine life.

Meanwhile, back at the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre and our Open Water Research Centre in Port Moody, scientists and researchers continue to try and uncover the reasons behind the dramatic population decline. They are working to analyze the nutritional stress hypothesis which considers what happens when sea lions are forced to change diets from fatty, high-energy prey, such as herring, to leaner, lower-energy fish, such as pollock.

As the research study on the dwindling population continues, we can all help to protect Steller sea lions by “losing the loop” and properly disposing of our garbage. You can also help to protect our waterways by registering for The Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup, presented by Loblaw Companies Limited, this spring. By cleaning up our shorelines we help to ensure that debris doesn’t get into the water in the first place.

Sea lion disentanglement by Vancouver Aquarium

A simple packing strap can easily injure and kill marine wildlife.

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, presented by Port Metro Vancouver, 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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