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A steller sealion drowned due to entanglement, by Joost van Uffelen

Sealions in trouble

During our stay in Canada it became clear that it isn´t only fun and games for the sealions.

Steller sealions are still listed as "Near Threatened" under the IUCN Red list for endangered animals since the commercial harvesting of these animals stopped decades ago.

Seasonal and yearly fluctuations in abundance of prey due to overfishing and the danger of being caught as by-catch or shot by fishermen are not making their lives easy.

Also the risk of getting entangled in fishing gear or other marine debris seems to be affecting these animals.

Here is a sealion in trouble, looks painful doesn't it?

This big (presumably young male) sealion wears a plastic band or rope around his neck which is cutting into his skin by now.

This sealion probably encountered this band at a young age which got stuck around its neck and as it grew it became tighter and tighter wrapped around his neck.

When we learned that another sealion had been caught in a line and drowned due to entanglement my interest peaked.

In what was it caught, was it fishing gear? Or was it something else?

We went back to the spot and freedived on the location to find the sealion still entangled in the line hanging in 6 meters of water.

It was quite a sight.. There were other sealions around of which one kept on bumping into the dead sealion as if in urging it to move..

Looking at the tangle in which it got caught, made clear to me that the animal had given up a fight to get freed from the lines.

The panic had probably taken over at one point looking at how the line was cutting into its fin..

I dove a few times to get the different angles on the scene, after which Matt started to cut the line from the base to make sure no more sealions got entangled.

Not an easy task on breathhold!

While we floated to the surface we gathered all the rope we freed from the base.

Once the dead sealion surfaced (it slowly floated back to the surface because of the gas buildup in its body), another sealion seemed to try to push it to the surface to breathe.

Kind of a gutwrenching scene if you ask me..

The irony was that the sealion that did not survive actually drowned due to human introduced gear that had to do with conservation efforts.

A project had been run by conservationists to re-introduce kelp to the ocean floor, which had all but disappeared in the area due to an overpopulation of sea urchins that eat the kelp roots.

The station was meant to allow the kelp to grow on, protected from the sea urchins.

It was unclear to me whether the lines in which the sealion got entangled belonged to the station or if discarded fishing lines got caught in the station later. 

Needless to say, it is clear that not well planned projects can be having a negative impact even though the intentions are good.

Either way hopefully this image visually addresses an important lesson for conservationists to take out leftovers of their projects after they are terminated.


Lastly there is also the issues these sealions face when encountering fishermen.

Check out this Video on Facebook shared by Sealegacy an important conservation group in Canada.

Basically sealions compete with fishermen over the same food source, in this case herring in the Straight of Georgia.

Fishermen don't like the sealions around and try to chase them off in all kinds of ways including lethal methods.

From experience of being in the ocean a lot I can tell you that the blast of this firework has much more effect than just what we see on the video.

Sound travels incredibly fast (and far) underwater and I would not be surprised if these animals suffer irreparable damage to their hearing.

Hearing might well be as important to them as it is to us..

So, here is to thinking more about what we are doing to our planet and our marine wildlife in particular!

joostvanuffelen's picture
About the Author:
Joost loves the oceans, travelling and (underwater)photography. Combining those three elements he creates ocean art, travel reports and ocean photo stories...

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