The packing straps, nets, ropes and wires that humans do not properly dispose of continue to injure and kill marine mammals living along our coast. Last week, a team from the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre, presented by Port Metro Vancouver, saved another female Steller sea lion from a packing strap that was slowly killing her. Unfortunately, biologists sighted six other animals similarly entangled that the team was not able to help.
“We’d like to rescue all of them, but each disentanglement takes an extraordinary amount of time, personnel, boats, gear and drugs. It’s not just costly; there is simply no way we can get to all of them,” said Dr. Martin Haulena, Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre head veterinarian. “The much better scenario would be for people to be more careful with their trash.”
Vancouver Aquarium associate researcher Wendy Szaniszlo, who monitors Steller sea lions on the west coast of Vancouver Island, estimates about 400 individual animals are entangled just in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. Of the entangled animals logged and photographed, about 38 per cent of cases involved plastic packing bands. Others involved commercial and sport fishing gear; for some, the debris was so badly embedded in the animal the type was unrecognizable.
Dr. Haulena is the only professionally trained veterinarian in Canada able to disentangle sea lions from marine debris. Over the past two decades, he’s 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. Success depends upon ideal weather and ocean conditions, requires specialized equipment, a team of expert staff, and boat support from Fisheries and Oceans Canada. The cost for just the Vancouver Aquarium team and gear is about $2,000 per rescue. The team has now saved more than a dozen sea lions from entanglement.
“We’ll continue to mount rescue efforts when we can,” said Dr. Haulena. “That’s not the best answer though. Residents of B.C., especially those living and working along the coast, need to be more mindful of their trash. ‘Lose the loop’ when you’re throwing away packing straps, ropes, wire, and plastic.”
B.C. residents can also help by picking up litter and debris from shorelines, to prevent it from getting in the aquatic ecosystem in the first place. The Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup is the country’s largest direct action conservation initiative, organized by the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre and WWF-Canada, and presented by Loblaw Companies Limited. Participants can register to clean a shoreline in their community at any time of the year.
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 Vancouver Aquarium’s Marine Mammal Rescue Centre at 604 258 SEAL (7325). Vancouver Aquarium is a self-supporting, non-profit society and does not receive ongoing funds for rescue efforts such as these. To support sea lion disentanglement efforts, please donate today.
Below is a video from last week’s rescue efforts: