The Vancouver Aquarium’s Marine Mammal Rescue Centre staff is back from another mission to rescue two sea lions entangled in garbage off the coast of B.C.
While one sea lion rescue in a day is considered a success, getting to help two in one day is “really rewarding,” says Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre head veterinarian Dr. Martin Haulena, who also happens to be the only veterinarian in Canada able to do these challenging rescues.
One sea lion known as Rip Tide was spotted in the Fanny Bay area of Vancouver Island last week. The California marine mammal had a deep wound around his neck caused by a tight loop of discarded rope or plastic. Although the team could not find Rip Tide, they did spot three additional animals called Stellar sea lions, which are considered a “species of concern,” ensnared in debris near Norris Rocks.
With the amount of entangled animals the team found, Dr. Haulena says, “it’s clear there is a serious problem on B.C.’s coast.”
“We estimate there are as many as 400 sea lions snared in trash all along our coastline right now,” the vet says.
“This is a human-caused problem, and we’d like to save all of them, but these rescues require an enormous amount of resources and funding.”
In order to untangle a sea lion, it must be sedated; which is a tricky process that usually takes place in the water and from a boat.
Over the past two decades, Dr. Haulena has helped develop a precise drug combination to temporarily sedate a sea lion, so it can be carefully handled. Even with sedation, the rescue efforts, which depend on the ideal weather and ocean conditions, specialized equipment and expert staff, are “extremely challenging” and can be very dangerous.
Along with the physical challenges involved in rescuing these marine mammals, there’s the expense. Each rescue is about $2,000 and the cost does not include staff, boat or fuel. The Vancouver Aquarium, which has been executing these rescues for a year and a half, pays for them through donations and money raised from admissions.
But overall Dr. Haulena says with the number of sea lions snared people need to be more careful with their trash and debris and ‘close the loop.’
If you do see a sea lion in distress, contact Vancouver Aquarium’s Marine Mammal Rescue Centre at 604-258-7325.