Two sea lions tangled in marine debris rescued by team from Vancouver Aquarium

Two sea lions were growing weaker and weaker after becoming trapped in some marine debris off the west coast of Vancouver Island.

A rescue team from the Vancouver Aquarium heard about the animals and set out to free them. Armed with tranquilizers, Vancouver Aquarium veterinarian Dr. Martin Haulena quietly approached the duo who were with a group and managed to hit them with the tranquilizer darts. He says this is the first time anyone has successfully darted and disentangled a sea lion in the wild in Canada.

One of the sea lions. Credit: Vancouver Aquarium.

After immobilizing the animals, the veterinary team carefully removed a fish-packing strap that had encircled the neck of the first mammal. Haulena made incisions in the strap that was slowly choking the second sea lion, but was unable to entirely remove the debris because the animal’s skin had grown over it.

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“Marine debris poses serious threats to marine mammals, especially sea lions,” says Haulena. “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.”

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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. With assistance from Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Parks Canada, the collaborative project will also develop disentanglement techniques that currently do not exist to save 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 Haulena.

The team working on one of the tangled sea lions. Credit: Vancouver Aquarium.

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. During a six-year period, 408 instances of sea lion entanglement were reported. Researchers agree these instances have a detrimental effect on already vulnerable populations.

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The Rescue Centre is currently caring for a rescued sea otter suffering from gunshot wounds.

The public can report marine mammals that appear to be in distress to the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre at 604 258 SEAL (7325) or Fisheries and Oceans Canada at 1 800 465 4336.

Donations made to the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre 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 today.

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