July 19, 2023 • News Announcements
On June 17, 2023, I was guiding a few dozen excited passengers on a Farallon Islands whale watching expedition. As we neared the islands, I noticed something different about one of the thousands of sea lions there on the rocks: it had a small orange tag fixed to its front right flipper. With my long camera lens, I managed to snap a photo of the ID number (W7059) and sent it to our partners at The Marine Mammal Center in hopes of learning more about this tagged animal. What I learned turned out to be remarkable.
I noticed a small orange tag fixed to the front right flipper of one of the thousands of sea lions we saw on July 17, 2023. © Michael Pierson
I zoomed in on the tag to read the number, W7059, which I sent to our partners at The Marine Mammal Center. © Michael Pierson
Back in July of 2022, a California sea lion was reported in distress at Cayucos State Beach, over 200 miles south of San Francisco. Experts from The Marine Mammal Center (TMMC) responded and rescued the struggling animal, which turned out to be a one-year-old female they promptly named Snare. Fortunately, Snare the sea lion was given immediate care in Morro Bay and regained enough strength to be transferred to TMMC’s state-of-the-art rehabilitation facility in Sausalito.
It was there that veterinarians diagnosed Snare with malnutrition, pneumonia, a fractured flipper, and multiple contusions. She underwent months of intensive care, including feeding through a tube, as well as courses of antibiotics and painkillers while her fractures healed. Snare responded well to treatment, gained weight, and was eventually deemed healthy by veterinarians. On September 9, 2022, Snare and two other rehabilitated marine mammals were released back into the ocean near Chimney Rock in Marin County.
At this point, Snare’s caretakers were left to wonder what the future might hold. There are no simple ways to monitor rehabilitated animals once they’re back in the wild. The off chance I spotted that tag was one of the few fortunate occasions when a tag is noticed, photographed, and reported to the right place. 9 months after Snare’s release, staffers from TMMC were thrilled to see her in good health in a suitable environment based on the photos from our trip.
Contributing to success stories like this one is possible by sharing data as a citizen scientist and posting photographs to apps like Seal Spotter. You can also report sightings of tagged animals directly to groups like TMMC and Oceanic Society. Photos and other information can be extremely helpful, so long as we all follow responsible wildlife photography guidelines and respect the animals’ space.
The story of Snare’s success is heartwarming to all of us ocean lovers out there. If you’d like to learn more about marine mammal rescue and help us spot a tagged animal of your own, come join an Oceanic Society Farallon Islands trip! There are thousands of seals and sea lions to see out there. Odds are that more rescues like Snare are among them, thriving and just waiting to be found.