The Vancouver Aquarium’s head veterinarian Dr. Martin Haulena might not wear a cape, but he’s definitely a hero after swooping in to rescue an entangled sea lion near Tofino on July 9.
An adult female Steller sea lion was facing a potentially painful and slow death after getting caught up in marine debris on Cleland Island, according to a media release issued by the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Centre.
Haulena was taken to the site by local adventure company Ocean Outfitters and was joined in the rescue effort by DFO and Parks Canada personel as well as local researcher Wendy Szaniszlo, and Doug Sandilands, from Washington State rescue organization.
The release explains that Haulena was able to shoot the animal with a dart to sedate it and appraoched with caution as a large adult male sea lion was nearby.
“Once the animal was sedated, Haulena and the team worked quickly, amid crashing waves, to remove the packing strap cutting into her neck, give her antibiotics and tag her, then reverse the anaesthetic and observe her as she woke and swam away,” the release states.
The Vancouver Aquarium has been colloborating with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada to disentangle sea lions in B.C. Since 2013, according to the release, which adds that Dr. Haulena is the only veterinarian in Canada who is professionally trained to disentangle sea lions from debris.
“Over the past two decades, he’s helped develop a precise drug combination to temporarily sedate a sea lion so it may be carefully handled,” according to the release.
West Coast locals and visitors are urged to never approach a distressed sea lion and to, instead, immediately report any sightings to Vancouver Aquarium’s Marine Mammal Rescue Centre at 604 258 7325.
The release suggests marine debris entanglement is a chronic plague on West Coast sea life and Szaniszlo believes roughly 400 animals are entangled within the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve—between Tofino and Ucluelet—each year.
“Ghost fishing gear, including nets and ropes, and discarded trash such as the plastic strapping used in packaging and shipping, become snared around the necks of the marine mammals, often killing them as they grow larger,” the release states.