Earlier this month, beachgoers in Argentina were shocked to find a sea lion carrying some extra weight around his neck.
The large marine mammal had accidentally inserted his head into a rubber tire while swimming. Now, the piece of trash was slowly cutting off his airway.
Volunteers with the Fundacion Fauna Argentina (FFA) knew that removing the tire would prove to be a difficult task.
“The use of anesthesia was not advisable,” a representative with the FFA told The Dodo. “The anesthetized sea lion could go into the water and fall asleep with a great extra weight on his neck and drown.”
The only way to save the sea lion was to work with him while he was resting. Being so close to the water, the rescuers had to be careful not to spook the animal, so they came up with a plan. The volunteers built a special tool that could help them rescue the sea lion from a distance — a long pole with a hook on the end.
After several failed attempts and a lot of waiting, the sea lion became relaxed enough for his rescuer to approach. The volunteer quickly looped the hook under the tire’s inner lip and people on the shore pulled until, finally, the tire came loose.
The sea lion immediately appeared grateful to be free of his excess baggage.
Despite the FFA’s best efforts to keep the sea lions’ natural habitat clean, this was far from the first time garbage had endangered an animal’s life. “It is common for the foundation to rescue entangled animals,” the FFA said. “An average of 300 animals are rescued each year — and the figure grows due to pollution.”
According to Ocean Conservancy, 8 million metric tons of plastics enter our ocean each year, and sea lions are not the only ones in danger. Sea birds, whales and turtles often mistake plastic debris and other garbage for food — with heartbreaking results.
Stopping the threat of garbage is going to take more than a weekly beach cleanup, notes the FFA — it’s going to take a complete change in behavior: “The only way to avoid deaths … is the awareness of the population and reeducation when discarding our waste.”
While fishing nets, plastic bags and cigarette butts threaten marine life, at least this lucky guy is happy thanks to the group of caring people who set him free.
To learn more about how you can help keep our beaches clean and protect marine life, visit the Ocean Conservancy website.