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Vancouver Aquarium rescue team disentangles a Stellar sea lion from ocean debris on Monday. It is estimated that as many as 400 sea lions off the coast of B.C. are caught in some kind of harmful material.

Vancouver Aquarium

A Steller sea lion in danger of death after it became entangled in ocean debris was rescued by a team from the Vancouver Aquarium on Monday, but two others are still in trouble.

The rescue team spotted the three animals in Fanny Bay a few weeks ago amid a group of sea lions. The one rescued Monday was freed from a packing strap.

"Sea lions are quite curious, they'll swim into things and get it around their neck and then it sticks there and as they grow, it starts to hurt them," said Deana Lancaster, communications adviser at the aquarium.

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"It's a really tricky procedure," she said. "They're really, really big, and they're wild, and they're not friendly."

Martin Haulena, lead veterinarian at the Vancouver Aquarium, spearheaded the rescue project and helped to develop the drug combination used to temporarily sedate the sea lion. After the sedative kicks in, the team has to bring the animal up close to the boat and cut off whatever material is hurting the sea lion.

Next, the animal is given an antibiotic, tagged, given a reversal drug to wake it up, and released.

It is difficult to rescue more than one animal a day because the sea lions get startled after the first rescue and move to another place, only to return days later, said Dr. Haulena. The team has already rescued eight animals since 2013 and hopes to set out again in March to more.

It is estimated that as many as 400 sea lions off the coast of B.C. are caught in some kind of material that might end up killing them, Ms. Lancaster said.

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