Every flipper tag tells a story. A big elephant seal named Green Tie is treated for the second time by The Marine Mammal Center.
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.
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!
Dr. Lorraine Barbosa, Koret Foundation Veterinary intern at The Marine Mammal Center, 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.
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.
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 below.
Update: November 18, 2011 - Green Tie Spotted Thriving on a Beach!
Days after he was freed from his entanglement - Green Tie was spotted on a beach near San Simeon snoozin' with other elephant seals! Here, you can still see the wound around his neck caused by the green packing strap entanglement. We wish Green Tie a long and healthy life in the wild!
November 11, 2011
Every year, countless numbers of marine mammals find themselves entangled in ocean trash, all thanks to human negligence. On November 10, a large 700 lb. elephant seal was spotted at Piedras Blancas near San Simeon with a green packing strap wrapped tightly around his neck. Many entangled animals are initially strong enough to escape rescue attempts and because they continue to grow, their entanglements become even tighter. In many cases, these animals die as a result of the entanglement restricting their ability to swallow or hunt effectively. As you can imagine, it can be a very slow and painful death.
Fortunately for "Green Tie," as he was nicknamed, his rescuers from The Marine Mammal Center were able to help him before it was too late!
From Lisa Harper Henderson, site manager and rescuer for The Marine Mammal Center’s San Luis Obispo operations:
"State Park rangers notified us on 11/8 that this big male elephant seal was on the beach and had a nasty entanglement. We knew low tide would be our best chance of getting him before he made a break for the water, and that low tide was to occur in the late afternoon on 11/10. A volunteer went back to the location on the 10th to see if the animal was still there. He was, so veterinary intern Dr. Michelle Barbieri headed down from Sausalito to meet us and make a plan of exactly how we would approach this big animal and safely capture and restrain him. We estimated him to be just over 700 lb. – the biggest animal we’ve responded to so far his year! "
It was quite the challenge to get the rescue net over this animal! After he was in it, he managed to escape through an opening and almost made his way back to the water. Fortunately, we were able to get to him before that happened and get him back into the net. Once secured, Dr. Barbieri sedated him, and in a few minutes was able to cut away the entanglement. She then thoroughly cleaned the wound and saw that new skin was already growing over the wound - a good sign of recovery! We put a flipper tag on him (on the left rear flipper since he was a male,) took a blood sample, and named him "Green Tie" after the green plastic packaging strap he had been entangled in. About 20 minutes or so after he was sedated, Green Tie woke up and went back into the water, lounging in the shallows nearby. He will be sporting a scar around his neck for his lifetime, but at least he now has a second chance at life, entanglement-free!"
Special thanks to volunteers involved in getting "Green Tie" free of his entanglement and back to the ocean! Gary Angelus, Jeff Sproul, Sarah Crass, Steve Johnson, Lisa Harper Henderson and Dr. Michelle Barbieri.
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