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Marine An­i­mal Re­spon­der

Wild - - CONTENTS - Il­lus­tra­tion by Tara Hardy

Marine An­i­mal Re­spon­der, Wendy Szanis­zlo, has spent many years ob­serv­ing sea lions and dis­en­tan­gling these beau­ti­ful marine mam­mals with the B.C. Marine Mam­mal Re­sponse Net­work. Want to fol­low in her foot­steps? Keep read­ing! What does a marine an­i­mal re­spon­der do?

Wendy Szanis­zlo (WS): Marine an­i­mal re­spon­ders are peo­ple that re­spond to a marine an­i­mal emer­gency. This could be any­thing from dis­en­tan­gling a sea lion or whale from things like fish­ing gear or care­fully cap­tur­ing and trans­port­ing (mov­ing) an aban­doned seal to the Van­cou­ver Aquar­ium’s re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion cen­tre where they’ll get the seal back into good health and will even­tu­ally re­lease the an­i­mal back in the wild.

We al­ways hope that we can help a live an­i­mal, but some­times we get calls be­cause a marine mam­mal is found dead. It’s sad for sure, but sci­en­tists can still learn so much about the an­i­mal. So we’ll take pic­tures and mea­sure the an­i­mal and some­times take tis­sue sam­ples too. With just a lit­tle ex­tra work we can find out what’s threat­en­ing at-risk marine mam­mals like dis­ease, ship strikes, en­tan­gle­ment and what we can do to make life a lit­tle eas­ier for these an­i­mals in the fu­ture.

We’re called in by reg­u­lar peo­ple! When some­one sees an an­i­mal in trou­ble, they will usu­ally call a hot­line to get the an­i­mal some help. For ex­am­ple, in Bri­tish Columbia, they’ll be call­ing the group I vol­un­teer with — the B.C. Marine Mam­mal Re­sponse Net­work.

You mostly work with sea lions. What is that like?

WS: I’ve been work­ing with sea lions for about 20 years now! When I first started study­ing sea lions in B.C., there wasn’t much known about where and when they moved around or what they ate in Bri­tish Columbia — es­pe­cially dur­ing the fall, win­ter and spring. The more I stud­ied sea lions in the field, the more I be­came aware of how of­ten sea lions got en­tan­gled in marine de­bris like plas­tic or swal­lowed fish hooks. When I’m do­ing stud­ies, I look for and pho­to­graph en­tan­gled sea lions so I can bet­ter un­der­stand the types of marine de­bris and fish­ing gear that sea lions be­come en­tan­gled in or in­gest (eat). Of course, I al­ways try to help dis­en­tan­gle them too by work­ing with the trained pro­fes­sion­als at the Van­cou­ver Aquar­ium.

What would you love WILD read­ers to know about sea lions?

WS: Sea lions are in­cred­i­bly in­tel­li­gent an­i­mals. They can learn very quickly and have ex­tremely long mem­o­ries. Un­for­tu­nately, if they are fed by hu­mans, sea lions learn to as­so­ciate hu­mans and boats with food and then ac­tively ap­proach boats to get food. This means that some­times sea lions will go right up to a fish­ing boat and try to grab the lat­est catch and some­times sea lions eat the fish along with the fish hook which isn’t good for them. But they don’t only eat fish that fish­er­men like to catch, they also eat things like oc­to­pus and squid and other fish species too.

What is the cra­zi­est ex­pe­ri­ence you’ve had in the field?

WS: Once while sit­ting alone on a small is­land where I was ob­serv­ing (look­ing at) a group of sea lions, a young Steller Sea Lion hopped onto the is­land near where I was sit­ting and ap­proached me. I sat qui­etly and was amazed to have the sea lion slowly come to­wards me. At one point it was just five me­tres away from me! We looked at each other for a few mo­ments, and then it went back into the wa­ter and slowly swam away, look­ing at me over its shoul­der. I wish I knew what it was think­ing!

If one of our read­ers wanted to be­come a marine an­i­mal re­spon­der, what should they study at school?

WS: A strong back­ground in bi­ol­ogy is im­por­tant, es­pe­cially for tak­ing sam­ples and con­duct­ing necrop­sies on dead marine mam­mals (an ex­am­i­na­tion to find out why the an­i­mal died). It also helps to get some ex­pe­ri­ence work­ing with live marine mam­mals (I vol­un­teered for marine mam­mal re­searchers and at marine mam­mal res­cue cen­tres). You might also con­sider go­ing to school to be­come a vet­eri­nar­ian or a vet­eri­nar­ian tech­ni­cian — it’s help­ful when you’re work­ing with live an­i­mals. And don’t for­get to learn how to drive a boat! Some­times an an­i­mal res­cue can’t hap­pen with­out get­ting to the an­i­mal by boat so that’s pretty im­por­tant too.a

A strong back­ground in bi­ol­ogy is im­por­tant, es­pe­cially for tak­ing sam­ples and con­duct­ing necrop­sies

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