Crews searched for a sea lion Thursday that was spotted near Bainbridge Island several days ago with fishing gear stuck to her mouth.
A hook is likely stuck in her throat or stomach.
"Some animals may survive that, but we know there are cases where unfortunately the hook will tear the esophagus or the stomach and the animal will pass away," said SR3 Executive Director Dr. Lesanna Lahner.
SR3 often partners with NOAA on marine mammal disentanglement missions.
"Any trash that's affecting animals in the ocean ultimately affects our human communities as well," Lahner added.
As we get closer, we saw how tough it can be for marine mammals to avoid humans. A boat circled the sea lions several times as people on board took photos. They stayed within a few feet, much closer than the hundred yard recommendation, a distance that is breached by response crews only with special permits.
In 2013, NOAA started recording areas where marine mammal entanglements are more common.
"Now that we've been collecting entanglement data for the past five years, we have a really good idea of these hot spot locations that the team can go to and we have a time frame of when we know those animals will be present," said NOAA Fisheries Regional Stranding Coordinator Kristin Wilkinson.
Days like Thursday, looking for an individual animal, are less common. It often ends like our day did, unable to find the sea lion.
"But this is also a great opportunity for us to get out on the water, see what seals and sea lions are around. Are there any other animals that we might find that are entangled?" Wilkinson said.
Hooks from salmon troll fisheries are the some of the most commonly ingested by marine mammals. It can be a challenge to raise interest in disentanglement, as sea lions aren't always the most popular since they are often seen as a fisherman's competition.
"However they only eat that salmon when their preferred food source, which is forage fish like herring and anchovies, is not available. So, the issue is really more about a broken food web than it is these animals eating the salmon," Dr. Lahner said.
If the sea lion is ever located, the team will decide whether it's safe to try to remove the hook.
Officials rely on the public's help, so they're asking for anyone who spots a marine mammal entangled with debris to call the hotline at 1-866-767-6114. They also encourage communities to host beach clean-ups in order to reduce debris.
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