One of the Lucky Ones: Seal Pup Released Back Into the Ocean After Severe Injuries From Marine Debris
A seal pup named Maëlle was released back into the ocean Tuesday, three months after being found severely underweight and injured by a fishing net wrapped deep around her neck.
The female seal, thought to be only five- or six-months-old at the time, was found in December on a beach near the city of Nanaimo in British Columbia, Canada.
Marine debris can cause serious harm to aquatic life, such as this young female seal named Maëlle who was found with fish net embedded in her neck. Photo credit: Vancouver Aquarium
After rescuers untangled her from the netting, Maëlle was transported to the Vancouver Aquarium’s Marine Mammal Rescue Centre for rehabilitation.
According to a blog post from the aquarium, the pup only weighed 9 kilograms when she was brought to the center.
"She was really underweight, so [the net] had probably been around her neck for what we're guessing was about a month's time," Lindsaye Akhurst, manager of the aquarium's rescue center, told CBC News. "She weighed half the amount of the weight that she should've."
Akhurst noted that injuries like Maëlle's are concerning because they're entirely due to human activity, adding that the aquarium rescues about 150 animals in similar circumstances every year.
This tiny piece of fishing net caught around Maelle’s neck caused her severe injuries. Photo credit: Vancouver Aquarium
Maëlle was put on a feeding program to help her gain weight and given antibiotics and fluids to help her heal.
The pup, who is named after Canadian snowboarder and 2010 Olympic gold medalist Maëlle Ricker, managed a full recovery and was released into Cates Park in North Vancouver March 8 with her namesake athlete also in attendance.
“It’s an enormous honor to be invited to witness the release of the now-healthy seal pup that is named after me,” Ricker said in the aquarium's blog post. “I’m grateful for the opportunity to help raise awareness about the importance of cleaning up our Canadian shorelines to help protect aquatic ecosystems and wild animals like Maëlle.”
Akhurst told 24 Hours Vancouver that the seal "didn’t even bat an eyelash" as she swam away into the North Vancouver sea.
“Her being an older animal when she came in, it’s nice that she’s doing so well, so fast,” Akhurst said.
RT @cbcnewsbc: Seal pup Maëlle released after full recovery at @Vanaqua #vancouver https://t.co/1xY1gWxYQ7 https://t.co/V9cjAggK4h— Vancouver Aquarium (@Vancouver Aquarium)1457497813.0
Maëlle's story is another reminder of the destruction caused by human litter which can choke, injure and even kill aquatic life as small as the tinniest fish to the largest whales. According to the aquarium, pinnipeds—seals and sea lions—are particularly susceptible to marine debris because of their curious nature.
An estimated 640,000 tonnes of ghost gear, which includes nets, lines and traps are lost, abandoned or discarded in our oceans every year. Added to that, at least 8 million tons of plastics leak into the ocean annually, meaning there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050.
One seal pup's happy ending highlights the impact of marine debris. https://t.co/476OHSCgzI Thx @maellericker! https://t.co/UhDds4LfOP— Vancouver Aquarium (@Vancouver Aquarium)1457484324.0
We can all do something to help reduce marine litter, from lifestyle changes to participating in beach cleanups. Last year alone, the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanups kept more than 175,932 kilograms of litter from reaching the oceans, lakes, rivers, streams and other water systems.
"This seal pup is one of the few lucky ones—the trash humans leave behind often has fatal consequences for wildlife in all our waters,” Kate Le Souef, manager of the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup, said.
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By Aaron W Hunter
A chance discovery of a beautifully preserved fossil in the desert landscape of Morocco has solved one of the great mysteries of biology and paleontology: how starfish evolved their arms.
The Pompeii of palaeontology. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<h2></h2><p>Although starfish might appear very robust animals, they are typically made up of lots of hard parts attached by ligaments and soft tissue which, upon death, quickly degrade. This means we rely on places like the Fezouata formations to provide snapshots of their evolution.</p><p>The starfish fossil record is patchy, especially at the critical time when many of these animal groups first appeared. Sorting out how each of the various types of ancient starfish relate to each other is like putting a puzzle together when many of the parts are missing.</p><h2>The Oldest Starfish</h2><p><em><a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/216101v1.full.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Cantabrigiaster</a></em> is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. It was discovered in 2003, but it has taken over 17 years to work out its true significance.</p><p>What makes <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> unique is that it lacks almost all the characteristics we find in brittle stars and starfish.</p><p>Starfish and brittle stars belong to the family Asterozoa. Their ancestors, the Somasteroids were especially fragile - before <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> we only had a handful of specimens. The celebrated Moroccan paleontologist Mohamed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2016.06.041" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Ben Moula</a> and his local team was instrumental in discovering <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031018216302334?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these amazing fossils</a> near the town of Zagora, in Morocco.</p><h2>The Breakthrough</h2><p>Our breakthrough moment came when I compared the arms of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> with those of modern sea lilles, filter feeders with long feathery arms that tend to be attached to the sea floor by a stem or stalk.</p><p>The striking similarity between these modern filter feeders and the ancient starfish led our team from the University of Cambridge and Harvard University to create a new analysis. We applied a biological model to the features of all the current early Asterozoa fossils in existence, along with a sample of their closest relatives.</p>
Cantabrigiaster is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<p>Our results demonstrate <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> is the most primitive of all the Asterozoa, and most likely evolved from ancient animals called crinoids that lived 250 million years before dinosaurs. The five arms of starfish are a relic left over from these ancestors. In the case of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em>, and its starfish descendants, it evolved by flipping upside-down so its arms are face down on the sediment to feed.</p><p>Although we sampled a relatively small numbers of those ancestors, one of the unexpected outcomes was it provided an idea of how they could be related to each other. Paleontologists studying echinoderms are often lost in detail as all the different groups are so radically different from each other, so it is hard to tell which evolved first.</p>
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