Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Vancouver Aquarium Rescue Team Successfully Disentangles Sea Lions Caught in Marine Debris

Vancouver Aquarium rescue team helps sea lion. Photo: Neil Fisher
Most people in the Vancouver area have visited the Vancouver Aquarium and seen the amazing animals that live there. But do you know much about what goes on there behind the scenes? Besides the 'backstage' areas of the Aquarium in Stanley Park, there is a lot of amazing work going on at the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre near the waterfront in East Vancouver and in the field as well. Here's their latest success story:

Last week, Dr. Martin Haulena and the rescue team of the Vancouver Aquarium travelled by boat along the west coast of Vancouver Island in search of two helpless sea lions accidentally ensnared by marine debris. Armed with a tranquilizer gun Dr. Haulena quietly approached a group of sea lions resting on rocks. After immobilizing the animals with tranquilizer darts, the veterinary team carefully removed a fish-packing strap that encircled the neck of the first marine mammal. Dr. Haulena made incisions in the strap that was slowly choking the second sea lion, but unfortunately was unable to entirely remove the debris because the animal’s skin had grown over it.

“Marine debris poses serious threats to marine mammals, especially sea lions,” says Dr. Haulena, Vancouver Aquarium veterinarian. “We were able to disentangle two male California sea lions by cutting debris from their necks, which saved them from a prolonged and very painful death.”

If you've seen documentaries on TV where researchers tranquilize bears or other animals, it seems like this would be pretty simple, but it's not when dealing with sea lions. “We have been working with several people for many years to try to develop a safe and effective darting protocol for sea lions,” says Dr. Haulena. “This was the first time anyone has successfully darted and disentangled a sea lion in the wild in Canada, representing a great leap forward in our rescue program.”

Here is a short video documentary about the disentanglement of the two sea lions. Warning for the faint of heart: there are images of open wounds & a little blood.

The disentanglement of these two sea lions was part of a groundbreaking project led by the Vancouver Aquarium, and marine mammal consulting biologist Wendy Szaniszlo, to free sea lions from marine debris and fishing gear in the Barkley-Clayoquot region. The collaborative project will also develop disentanglement techniques that currently do not exist to save sea lions.

A few more facts about the project:
  • During a six-year period, 408 instances of sea lion entanglement were reported. 
  • Sea lion populations are vulnerable and researchers agree marine debris entanglement has a detrimental effect on their numbers.
  • The disentanglement project is based on a recent study, funded by the Clayoquot Biosphere Trust, which investigated the frequency of sea lion entanglements in Clayoquot and Barkley Sounds. 
  • Assistance was provided by Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Parks Canada, and Brian Gisborne of Juan de Fuca Express; the Canadian Wildlife Federation provided grant funding.

The Vancouver Aquarium & the Marine Mammal Rescue facility have a great team of staff and volunteers, but they could still use a little help. Here's what you can do:
  1. Report it. If you see a seal, sea lion or other marine mammal that appears to be in distress, report it to the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre at 604-258-SEAL (7325) or Fisheries and Oceans Canada at 1-800-465-4336. Put these numbers into your mobile phone now, so if you see something concerning when you're on a beach you can call right away.
  2. Donate! Money given to the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre will directly support the veterinary team’s ability to rescue distressed marine animals and provide the necessary medical care that allows the Rescue Centre to safely release rehabilitated animals. You can provide your support by donating here today.

Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre, presented by Port Metro Vancouver and supported by Teekay Shipping, is a hospital for sick, injured or orphaned marine mammals. The Rescue Centre rescues stranded marine mammals and rehabilitates them for release back into their natural habitat. Donate to the Rescue Centre at

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