Skip to main content

A tranquilized sea lion awaits release after rescuers removed a plastic packaging strap from around his neck, March 11, 2014.Neil Fisher

The Vancouver Aquarium is reminding members of the public not to throw debris in waterways after it helped rescue a sea lion that had a plastic packing strap tangled around its neck.

The aquarium's marine mammal rescue team, along with members of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, carried out the rescue Tuesday near Fanny Bay, on Vancouver Island.

Martin Haulena, who spoke about the rescue at a news conference Wednesday and is the aquarium's head veterinarian, tranquilized the sea lion as it sat on a pile of logs. The team then climbed on the logs, cut off the packing strap and cleaned up the wound. The sea lion, in a video released by the aquarium, could later be seen waking up and swimming away.

"This particular sea lion was the unsuspecting victim of plastic packing strap tightly wound around its neck. This is often what we find on them – it's the perfect size for them to swim into and difficult for them to dislodge themselves," Dr. Haulena said.

"It's a good reminder for all of us to not throw debris into our waterways as careless behaviour can directly impact marine animals, which can result in permanent injuries and death."

Dr. Haulena said research indicates between 200 and 400 marine animals in B.C. are currently entangled in debris.

The issue has gained attention in the Fanny Bay area in recent weeks, after locals spotted a sea lion – who they named Kiyo – with what appears to be a wire wrapped around its neck. A Facebook page calling for action on the matter and protection of sea lions has generated dozens of messages and more than 400 likes.

Though it was Kiyo's plight that brought the rescue team to the region, Dr. Haulena said they were unable to locate that particular sea lion.

Lisa Spaven, a marine mammal biologist with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, said in an interview that the rescue operation for Kiyo will stand down for now, due to crew availability. She said Fisheries and Oceans would consider a further response if Kiyo was again spotted, but could not guarantee one.

Of the six sea lions the team saw that were tangled in debris it was only able to carry out the one rescue. The rescued sea lion was male, 10 to 12 years of age, and weighed between 250 and 300 kilograms.

Dr. Haulena said such rescues can be extremely difficult even for professionals, and he urged residents not to make any attempts on their own.

"Just the way the animal's located, which is on a very narrow [area] outside the docks on Fanny Bay, it is a very poor shot to take. The animal would invariably go in the water. … It does decrease the chances of a disentanglement," he said.

Ms. Spaven said the problem of entangled animals isn't exclusive to Fanny Bay, and plans are in the works for further study.

"I think what we're looking at right now is more of a planned regular survey type of approach to disentanglement, where we might pick certain areas at certain times of the year where we'd put out a dedicated effort for several days to disentangle as many animals as possible, rather than do this as a one-off and scramble to get everyone together. I think we'll make a bigger difference that way," she said.

This is not the first time the aquarium and Fisheries and Oceans have teamed up to rescue an entangled sea lion. The parties rescued two sea lions in Barkley Sound in a similar manner last year.

Follow me on Twitter: @TheSunnyDhillon

Interact with The Globe