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Entanglements Are No Joke: Sea Lion Socks Scarred for Life

Due to an entanglement around her face and mouth, Socks the sea lion will be forever branded with a smile-shaped scar like that of “Batman” villain the Joker—an unhappy reminder of the scary truth about ocean trash.

October 30, 2014

Socks has deep wounds from the fish netting that was wrapped around her face and neck.
© Sarah van Schagen, The Marine Mammal Center


Brought to life on the big screen by Heath Ledger, Jack Nicholson and others, the Joker is known for his creepy clown face and “Glasgow smile” scar.

The Marine Mammal Center recently treated a California sea lion patient left with a horrific scar that is eerily similar—but the cause of her injury is nothing to smile about.

Fishing netting entangled around Socks made it difficult for her to move.
© The Marine Mammal Center

Found at a jetty in Morro Bay, California, the two to three year old sea lion, later named “Socks,” had green fish netting wrapped around her face and neck. Some of the fishing line caught around Socks’ neck also looped around her face and mouth, cutting into her skin so deeply at the corners of her lips that it had started to rip, causing wounds that stretched toward her ears.

The way the entanglement wrapped around her body left her at such an awkward angle that she couldn’t properly lie down or maneuver her head and neck to catch fish. She was emaciated, and her ribs were clearly visible through her skin.

Rescued from the jetty and brought to The Marine Mammal Center’s San Luis Obispo triage center, Socks was immediately disentangled by veterinary staff and then transported up to our headquarters in Sausalito for further care.

Our veterinary team gave her a thorough examination, including taking X-rays to look for damage to the bones in her jaws and skull. They also cleaned her wounds to help prevent infection and further scarring.

Socks is examined thoroughly by veterinary staff.
© The Marine Mammal Center


After rehabilitating at the Center for several weeks with a permanent “smile,” Socks now has plenty to be happy about. Entanglement-free, she has been able eat again and has returned to a healthy weight for an animal her age.

Our animal care volunteers even had to separate her from the other sea lions during feedings because she out-competed her companions, eating their share of fish as well as her own—a great sign that she’ll be successful back in the wild.

Today, on the eve of Halloween, our scary entanglement survivor will be released back to the ocean at Moonstone Beach in Cambria, California. Like a Cheshire cat, she’ll disappear into the rolling waves, her iconic grin a haunting reminder of the dangers of human carelessness.

The scary truth about entanglements
While the smile-shaped wounds on Socks’ face left her with a frightening visage, the truly scary thing about her entanglement is that it’s only one of many we’ve seen this year at The Marine Mammal Center. In fact, just this week, we rescued two more sea lions entangled in fishing line.

Read about some of the other entangled patients we’ve rescued this year:

You can make a difference in lives of marine mammals like Socks! Your donation or membership goes a long way to help these animals get a second chance at life.




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