Thursday, February 21, 2013

Entangled seal rescued

From the Marine Mammal Center web site: For several months, The Marine Mammal Center rescue hotline had received calls about a sub-adult (4-to 7-year-old) elephant seal with a possible entanglement around his neck. The latest call said he was hauled out on the beach at Piedras Blancas, just north of Cambria, CA so a rescue team, composed of trained volunteers and staff, was dispatched on February 11, 2013 to see if they could help the animal. [I'm delighted to see that they used my photo to illustrate this story!]

You can just imagine the logistical challenges of helping a large injured elephant seal hauled out at a rookery crowded with other elephant seals - each weighing half a ton or more! How do you avoid disturbing the other animals and keep all the humans safe while you investigate the animal’s injuries? It’s a challenge, to say the least!
green tie, elephant seal, marine mammal center
Dr. Lorraine Barbosa uses a pole syringe to sedate a sub-adult male elephant seal so she can examine the wound on his neck.
© Sharron Jackman - The Marine Mammal Center

Dr. Lorraine Barbosa, the Center’s veterinary intern, decided to try a non-intrusive approach. Alone, she very slowly snuck up on the sleeping animal, estimated to weigh 1,100 lbs, and used a pole syringe to administer a sedative. Her plan worked! Without disturbing any other seals, he was sedated within 15 minutes after receiving the sedative. Then the team moved in to get a closer look at the wound on his neck.
green tie, elephant seal, marine mammal center
The orange tag pictured above is attached to the elephant seal’s rear flipper and identifies him as “Green Tie,” an animal that The Marine Mammal Center had disentangled in 2011.
© The Marine Mammal Center
The team got a surprise when they found an orange tag attached to his rear left flipper. The tag has a unique identifying number, and it was one of ours! The team now knew that this was not the first time this animal had been in the care of The Marine Mammal Center.

Each animal that we treat receives an orange flipper tag like this one to help with re-sight identification in the wild. Elephant seals like to cover themselves with sand when hauled out, and the very small tag was not visible until rescuers got close to him. While the team knew there was going to be more to the story, they had to work quickly, without knowing the animal’s full history, as he was already sedated.

green tie, elephant seal, marine mammal center
Dr. Lorraine Barbosa examined the wound on the animal’s neck.
© Sharron Jackman - The Marine Mammal Center

Dr. Barbosa carefully examined the animal’s neck and concluded that while it was crusty and had some discharge from the wound, there was no current entanglement or serious problem. Based on his flipper tag number, we now know that the Center disentangled this animal before, when he stranded just down the road from this beach. His name is “Green Tie” due to the green plastic packing strap found deeply embedded in his neck back in December 2011.

This time around, Dr. Barbosa found “skin fold dermatitis” in the neck wound. The packing strap that was embedded in Green Tie’s neck in 2011 was so tight that as he grew, it cut through blubber and muscle, creating a very deep wound that caused the skin to fold over itself. Moisture and bacteria can collect in these skin folds, causing the type of irritation that had caused people to think this might be a new entanglement.

All of this is very good news for Green Tie, as his dermatitis shouldn’t pose any serious problems for him. After his “house call” he awoke from the sedation, still in the same spot on the beach. In fact, there is a good chance he wasn’t even aware that he had been examined by The Marine Mammal Center for a second time.

You can read the complete story of Green Tie’s 2011 disentanglement in our news archives.

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