While conducting Steller sea lion research in Alaska during a 3-week survey in 2000, we saw more than 50 Steller sea lions with life-threatening neck entanglements from fishing gear and marine debris (litter) or swallowed fishing hooks. Unfortunately at the time, there was no safe way to capture and disentangle these large (adult males can weigh up to 2000 pounds) sea lions. At the same time, we were observing many northern fur seals entangled in fishing nets and marine debris in the Pribilof Islands, Alaska. We wanted to do SOMETHING to help these animals and so until safe disentanglement methods were developed, we decided to do our best focusing on PREVENTION of marine debris through outreach and education.
As we continued to focus on prevention and outreach, and look for innovative methods to respond to large pinnipeds, we knew there were others around the world dealing with similar issues. So in 2009, four of us (Lauri Jemison, Kim Raum-Suryan, Kate Savage, and Mike Williams) formed the Pinniped Entanglement Group (PEG). We spoke with other pinniped researchers around the world and quickly realized that it was best to work TOGETHER to reduce pinniped entanglements in marine debris and fishing gear through education, outreach, and rescue. Our purpose was and continues to be PREVENTION of marine debris and pinniped entanglements. Over the years, we have grown into a global community and currently have more than 144 members in 18 countries, all dedicated to the safety and welfare of pinnipeds. PEG activities include entanglement prevention, outreach and education, sharing of disentanglement tools and techniques, and using the latest best entanglement response practices to safely rescue and release entangled seals and sea lions.
There have been many advances in pinniped entanglement response in the last several years; notably, remote sedation now allows responders to safely capture and disentangle large pinnipeds that previously were inaccessible. However, our ability to disentangle animals is very small compared to the much larger problem of plastics and other marine trash in the oceans that threaten all marine life. It is important to collectively work together to proactively find solutions to prevent marine debris from entering our waterways. By working together on outreach and prevention, we can help to mitigate the impacts of marine debris on pinnipeds and all marine species. PREVENTION is the key to solving this global problem.