Session Chairs: Kim Raum-Suryan, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Fisheries, Protected Resources Division; Elizabeth Hogan, World Animal Protection

 This session looks at pinniped entanglement in marine debris: Identifying the problem, methods to reduce and prevent entanglements, innovative techniques for pinniped disentanglement, lessons learned, and next steps toward a solution.

 Marine debris is a global concern affecting at least 200 marine species in the world’s oceans. The entanglement of marine mammals in all forms of marine debris is increasingly recognized as a serious source of human-caused mortality for marine mammal populations including pinnipeds. Marine debris most commonly associated with pinniped entanglements include plastic packing bands, fishing nets, monofilament line, rope, crab traps, rubber bands from crab traps, and fish pots. Entangling debris may cause drowning, lacerations, infection, strangulation, increased energy expenditure (especially while dragging large fragments of net), and mortality. Moreover, marine debris can be a ‘‘silent” killer, where ingested hooks or plastic may perforate the esophagus or stomach lining leading to catastrophic infection, organ damage, reduce feeding, and cause starvation; all with no apparent external signs of entanglement.

Researchers world-wide have worked independently to prevent pinniped entanglement in marine debris. To provide increased global collaboration and communication among scientists, non-government organizations, non-profits, and others, the Pinniped Entanglement Group (PEG) was created in 2009. The PEG collaborates to reduce pinniped entanglements in marine debris and fishing gear through education, outreach, and rescue. The PEG continues to grow globally and welcomes new members dedicated to the safety and welfare of pinnipeds.

This session will discuss: 1) Global pinniped entanglement research; 2) Entanglement rescue response (including best practices and lessons learned); 3) Entanglement prevention and PEG; and 4) Innovative solutions and next steps.


PANEL (following presentations):

  • –      Kim Raum-Suryan, NOAA/NMFS Alaska Region, Protected Resources Division
  • –      Kate Savage, NOAA/NMFS Alaska Region
  • –      Mike Williams, NOAA/NMFS Alaska Region, Protected Resources Division
  • –      Daniela Barcenas, The Marine Mammal Center
  • –      Rebecca McIntosh, Phillip Island Nature Parks
  • –      Lynda Doughty, Marine Mammals of Maine




Packing Bands Entangling Pinnipeds Around the World: Policy and Practical Solutions

presenting: Elizabeth Hogan (World Animal Protection, United States); authors: Elizabeth Hogan (World Animal Protection, United States)

Marine debris is a significant and detrimental source of entanglement for marine animals around the world. Entangling debris includes packing bands, fishing gear,  and plastic bags (other items) and can lead to serious injury, suffocation, and  even death. In addition to reducing the ability or likelihood of individual animals  to survive and reproduce, entanglement can be a threat to the recovery of small  populations. Among pinnipeds, an estimated 58 percent of seal and sea lion species are  known to have been affected by entanglement.   Analysis of entangling debris assessed in this study suggests that there are some  commonalities in the physical characteristics of packing bands found entangling  pinnipeds around the world (i.e., color, size). In some cases, these observed patterns  are likely due to manufacturing practices, but they can nonetheless inform  future steps and strategies for reducing the prevalence of entangling debris, including  implementing regulations, realigning economic incentives, establishing industry  best practices, and developing innovative alternative materials. Here we present a global review and  analysis of packing band material retrieved from seals and sea lions submitted by  stranding response practitioners from around the world.We hypothesized that our  sample of packing bands would have a range of characteristics and that compiling  such a collection could lead to further understanding of their shared features, if any,  that might explain their prominence as entangling debris.  The implementation of prohibitions and voluntary guidelines for disposing of  packing bands is a positive step toward minimizing this threat.


Examining utility and functional aspects of remote, line-Free Lobster and crab fishing systems with modelling and prototype development for reduction of marine Mammal Foraging habitat impact and reduction of marine debris.

presenting: Richard Riels (S.M.E.L.T.S., United States); authors: Daniel Greenberg (R & D Consult, LLC, United States), Daniel Greenberg (R & D Consult, LLC)

Modelling of Atlantic Right Whale population habitats indicate an impact by buoy set bottom fishing from the crustacean industry. Development and deployment of Line-Free bottom fishing systems reduces underwater navigational and debris hazards.

Line-Free systems added to standard recreational or commercial crab or lobster pots involves the integration of economical remote underwater telemetry, active GPS monitoring, autonomous flotation equipment and robust electronics; allows for reliable, Line-Free fishing. Removing miles of fishing lines from recreational and commercial fishing gear has the potential to significantly reduce navigational hazards for marine mammals and shipping and reduce yearly marine debris by many tons and many miles of gear. Line-Free fishing equipment mounts directly to existing crab or lobster pots, is rechargeable and reusable, driving costs down, providing reliability with system redundancies.

Experimental data and practical experience with this novel integration of standard and upgraded fishing technologies indicates commercial and recreational fishing opportunities. This system provides deployment time savings and opens up previously unreachable rocky and reef type fisheries. By removing buoy lines, Line-Free fishing provides the industry with a methodology for delivering a less environmentally invasive fishing process while retaining standard crab and lobster pots.

Initial prototype models deployed from research vessel utilize a 36”D x 16”H three hole crab pot, providing mid depth data with a deployed integrated equipment package including: activated sonar signals, automated inflation, recovery with LED beacon and standard davit block. Initial life cycle test provides data encouraging deployment of commercially available systems sized to any bottom set fishery worldwide.


Understanding the impact of marine debris entanglements on pinniped health: a 10-year study of entangled California sea lions rescued along the central California coast.

presenting: Elsa María Coria-Galindo (The Marine Mammal Center, 2000 Bunker Road, Sausalito, California 94965, U.S.A., Mexico); authors: Elsa María Coria-Galindo (The Marine Mammal Center, 2000 Bunker Road, Sausalito, California 94965, U.S.A., Mexico), Claire A. Simeone (The Marine Mammal Center, 2000 Bunker Road, Sausalito, California 94965, U.S.A.), Shawn P. Johnson (The Marine Mammal Center, 2000 Bunker Road, Sausalito, California 94965, U.S.A.)

California sea lions (Zalophus californianus) are the most common pinniped in California, and are the species most frequently affected by entanglement in marine debris along the central California coast. The purpose of this study was to review stranding and medical records of entangled California sea lions rescued by The Marine Mammal Center between 2006 and 2016, to better understand this complex situation and to inform solutions and mitigation efforts. These results provide valuable information to the new Pinniped Disentanglement Program starting in Sonora, Mexico. Entanglement in marine debris is a significant threat to sea lions along the Sonoran coast, and San Jorge Island, near Puerto Peñasco has an estimated 1.7% prevalence of entangled sea lions.

Of all live rescues (n= 6632), 2% had active entanglements (n= 147). Males were more affected (66%) than females, and yearlings and juveniles were the most frequently affected age classes. monofilament was the most common type of marine debris entanglement (75% of known entanglement types). The majority of entanglements were single wounds around the neck (84%). Animals required a rehabilitation stay between 1 and 9 days for 42% of entanglement cases, while 23% were disentangled in situ and were not hospitalized.

We found a direct correlation between body condition and survival. Of the sea lions in good body condition, 99% survived and were successfully released. As body condition deteriorated, survival decreased. Of the total entangled sea lions, 56% had one or more co-morbidity (malnutrition and pneumonia were most frequent). Two-thirds of all entangled animals were able to be released following disentanglement and/or rehabilitation. These data highlight the importance of rapid disentanglement, as well as efforts to prevent entanglements in monofilament.


Marine debris is the most frequently encountered anthropogenic threat to pinnipeds in central California: a comparative review of two decades of marine mammal stranding cases

presenting: Daniela Barcenas (The Marine Mammal Center, Mexico); authors: Daniela Barcenas (The Marine Mammal Center, Mexico), Eugene De Rango (The Marine Mammal Center), Shawn Johnson (The Marine Mammal Center), Claire Simeone (The Marine Mammal Center)

Marine debris is an important cause of injury and mortality in marine species around the globe. Twelve years of marine mammal stranding cases in central and northern California were analyzed, and trends compared to a previous study. Between January 2003 and September 2015, 617 of 11,162 total stranding cases (6%) had evidence of anthropogenic trauma (AT). Fifty-six percent of all AT cases were caused by marine debris.

Marine debris entanglement has become the most frequently encountered type of AT among pinnipeds in this region, replacing gunshot injury (27%) which had been documented as the most common type of AT from 1986 to 1998. When further analysis were made to isolate cases of fisheries interactions, direct fisheries interactions represented 50% of all AT cases, while 17% were caused by non fishing-related materials, 27% by gunshot wounds, and 5% were related to boat collision.

California sea lions comprised 83% of all AT cases, but threatened Guadalupe fur seals had the highest prevalence of entanglement in marine debris, as 13.2% of all rescued Guadalupe fur seals were affected by marine debris. Efforts to mitigate sources of marine debris are vital to address this increasing threat to marine mammals.


Marine debris in harbour porpoises and seals from German waters

presenting: Bianca Unger (Tiho Hannover, Germany); authors: Bianca Unger (Tiho Hannover, Germany), Miriam Hillmann (Institute for Terrestrial and Aquatic Wildlife Research, University of Veterinary Medicine Hannover, Foundation, Germany), Kornelia Wolff-Schmidt (Institute for Terrestrial and Aquatic Wildlife Research, University of Veterinary Medicine Hannover, Foundation, Germany), Peter Wohlsein (Department for Pathology, University of Veterinary Medicine Hannover, Foundation, Germany), Ursula Siebert (Institute for Terrestrial and Aquatic Wildlife Research, University of Veterinary Medicine Hannover, Foundation, Germany)

For investigating the impacts of marine debris on harbour porpoises (Phocoena phocoena), harbour seals (Phoca vitulina) and grey seals (Halichoerus grypus) inhabiting German waters, data collected within the framework of stranding schemes were analysed. This includes the coastlines of the German Federal States of Schleswig-Holstein and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. A total of 6,587 marine mammals collected since 1990 were verified for marine debris. Altogether 37 debris items were documented. They were found in 31 carcasses including 14 external findings (entanglement) and 17 internal findings (ingested items). The share of fishing related debris, including fish hooks, netting and baits, was highest (64.9 %). In both, external and internal findings, items made out of synthetic materials dominated (73 %) compared to metals and wooden items. Furthermore, more findings were made in animals inhabiting the Baltic Sea compared to the North Sea. Concerning the species mostly seals were affected, especially grey seals showed the highest prevalence in both, external and internal interactions with marine debris. Regarding the age classes, mostly juvenile individuals were impacted. This study provides first information on debris burdens of marine mammals in German waters. The results of the analyses contribute to information needed for assessing the Good Environmental Status as required by the the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD).


Pinniped Marine Debris Entanglement Response: Best Practices and Lessons Learned – A Panel Discussion

presenting: Kim Raum-Suryan (NOAA/NMFS Alaska Region, Protected Resources Division, United States); authors: Kim Raum-Suryan (NOAA/NMFS Alaska Region, Protected Resources Division, United States), Lauri Jemison (Alaska Department of Fish and Game), Kate Savage (NOAA/NMFS Alaska Region), Michael Williams (NOAA/NMFS Alaska Region, Protected Resources Division), Shawn Johnson (The Marine Mammal Center), Rebecca McIntosh (Phillip Island Nature Parks), Kristen Patchett (International Fund for Animal Welfare), Lynda Doughty (Marine Mammals of Maine)

Safely capturing and removing entangling materials from pinnipeds is a challenging but rewarding endeavor. Certain species are small enough to capture and manually restrain on shore while others can only be safely handled under sedation. Advances in remote chemical immobilization have now made it possible to safely capture and disentangle large pinnipeds, even if they enter the water. With each entanglement response and capture, responders learn many valuable lessons that could help other scientists who plan to embark upon this method. Many factors impact the success of a capture including the feasibility of rescue response; location, size, and position of the animal; communication and decision making among responders; experience of responding personnel; adaptive techniques when the unexpected occurs; weather, tidal, and other environmental conditions; capture equipment and satellite tag application; and the response of the target animal after darting. This panel will bring together experts with experience in responding to and disentangling different pinniped species. Each panelist will succinctly explain their top three best practices and lessons learned followed by a full panel question and answer period with the audience. The session will conclude with ideas for innovative solutions and next steps in increasing entanglement response.