Thank you for signing up to our email!

Now, before you leave, do you want to make a seal's day?

Scary Entanglement Haunts an Elephant Seal

Ocean trash is a major threat to marine mammals and a frequent cause of the problems faced by patients at The Marine Mammal Center.

October 31, 2013

On the eve of All Hallows, when ghostly specters haunt the night, a different kind of horror is lurking in the depths of our oceans and along our beaches. Carelessly discarded trash and debris not only harms marine mammals, it also degrades the health of our oceans and marine habitats in many ways, and poses risks to the health and safety of human beings as well.

An elephant seal became entangled in this large piece of plastic – initially rescuers thought it could be a toilet seat from a boat or a recreational vehicle, but later analysis suggests it’s a part from a Japanese rice cooker.
© The Marine Mammal Center

A team out of The Marine Mammal Center's San Luis Obispo satellite operation recently helped a 350-pound elephant seal that had become entangled in a large piece of plastic. The animal was named Tidybowl because of the appearance of the plastic, which resembled a toilet seat.

Tidybowl was spotted on a beach near San Simeon, with the plastic deeply embedded in his neck. It created an ugly bloody wound that could have been life-threatening if it went untreated. The good news is that the wound was not so bad that it required hospitalization of the animal.

Tidybowl can be seen on the beach, with the plastic entanglement stuck around his neck.
© The Marine Mammal Center

The process of disentangling the animal was carried out directly on the beach and Tidybowl was released immediately. He probably did not quite understand what had just happened, and hesitated for a few minutes before he went into the water. A quick release after an entanglement can be very beneficial, because the best healing agent for this type of wound is salt water!

Learn about the haunting inspiration behind The Ghost Below art exhibit. Make your ocean promise on our virtual net at

Seals and sea lions are naturally curious animals, and they use their snouts to explore and examine objects that they find in the water. This curiosity can cause problems for them, especially with discarded trash such as fishing nets, plastic packing straps, balloons, and other plastic items gets wrapped around an animal's head and neck. When a young animal becomes entangled in trash like this, the trash acts as a noose, slowly strangling the animal as it grows. If not helped in time, this type of entanglement can prove fatal.

Other types of ocean trash can be mistaken for food by fish and marine mammals. Cigarette butts, plastic bags and bottles, and styrofoam shipping pellets all pose problems that can have a powerfully negative impact on the health of our oceans.

The Marine Mammal Center is committed to educate the public about the serious threats posed by ocean trash. We see the effects of this issue on a regular basis, as our patients suffer from human carelessness. Our goal in rescuing and rehabilitating marine mammals in need, is to release them back to their natural habitat, so it is critically important that their ocean home is healthy.

The rescue team shows the trophy trash that was removed from the neck of an elephant seal. Pictured here are Mark Garman, Dereka Wallace, San Luis Obispo Operations Manager Lisa Harper Henderson, and Terry Greene. Photo was taken by volunteer Susan Garman, who also helped with the rescue.
© The Marine Mammal Center






Learn more about The Ghost Below

Learn about Northern elephant seals

Find out how you can help: Stop Trashing Our Oceans!


Printer Friendly


COVID Response

Focusing on safety in our core work.

Learn more
Adopt a Seal

Your symbolic adoption helps our patients thrive.

Share the Love!

Honor or remember loved ones with your gift.

Give Joy