Featured Image Credit: Vancouver Aquarium
Earlier this month, an International team carried out the first disentanglement by remote immobilization in Washington state. The team of veterinarians, wildlife officials and biologists saved two adult male California sea lions, who were entangled in discarded packing straps.
Ghost fishing, along with other marine debris, poses a huge threat to both California and Stellar sea lions. If the mammals hadn’t been found, then the straps could have easily caused serious injuries and even death. According to surveys in British Columbia, hundreds of entangled sea lions have been reported. It’s highly likely that the same numbers apply in California, Oregon, Washington and Alaska. Yikes.
Let’s back up. What does remote immobilization mean? Well, the rescue team used a dart to temporarily sedate the sea lions, so they could maneuver the animals without injuring them. Typically, the team will use a boat to approach the floating animal and then gently disentangle them.
With help from Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre has been saving sea lions from entanglement since 2013. Dr. Martin Hualena, the Vancouver Aquarium’s head veterinarian, has been developing the sedative that is used in the darts for close to two decades. Dr. Hualena commented on the mission saying, “These rescue efforts involving sea lions are extremely challenging and can be dangerous. Success depends upon ideal weather and ocean conditions, and requires specialized equipment and a skilled team.”
NOAA’s Marine Mammal Stranding Coordinator for WA, Kristin Wilkinson, pulled together a top-notch team for the recent rescue: Dr. Hualena, Vancuever Aquarium research associate Wendy Szaniszlo, biologists from NOAA Fisheries Alaska Fisheries Science Center Marine Mammal Laboratory, veterinarian Dr. Joseph Gaydos, SeaDoc Societ/UC Davis, veterinarian Dr. Lesanna Lahner and Casey Mclean from Emerald Waters Marine Wildlife Health Institute.
This particular rescue trip was on Washington’s outer coast in Neah Bay. This is also the home of the Makah Tribe, who showed their support by allowing the team to use one of their boats. They also offered the helping hand of marine mammal biologist Jon Scordino, who had surveyed for sea lions before the trip.
The rescue mission kicked off on October 2nd. Dr. Haulena sedated the first adult male California sea lion with a dart from shore, while Dr. Lahner approached the floating marine mammal with a boat and disentangled him. Roles were switch during the second rescue on the following day. Dr. Gaydos immobilized the other adult male sea lion, also from shore, then he and Dr. Haulena disentangled him.
Dr. Gaydos commented on the rescue, “We’re excited to be bringing this safe, but technically challenging technique into Washington. Disentanglement not only improves the welfare of the animals we help, but also enables us to collect data needed to identify the main items entangling sea lions so we can help manufacturers alter their production and stop the entanglement cycle.”