Team effort to rescue fur seal

By Peter de Graaf

Northland marine mammal expert Ingrid Visser has shown she saves more than whales by helping to rescue a fur seal with a plastic strap stuck around its neck.

The rescue unfolded at Punta Norte on Argentina's Peninsula Valdes, where Dr Visser had been studying orca which deliberately beach themselves to prey on seals.

A British wildlife photographer, David Jenkins, was the first to notice a young fur seal in a group of sea lions had a loop of plastic strapping caught around its neck.

He saw the strapping had cut deep into the seal's neck and knew it would eventually prove fatal - but, having been involved in rescuing similarly entangled lions in Africa, he also knew capturing the seal and safely removing the strapping would be no easy task.

Together with a local park ranger, Hector Casin, he contacted the orca research team at nearby Punta Norte for help.

A team of seven was assembled for the April 16 rescue, including three Kiwis with experience of removing strapping from New Zealand fur seals - Dr Visser and Steve Whitehouse from and Dunedinite Shaun Wilson.

They were joined by Argentinians Juan Copello, Leoni Gaffet and Jorge Cazenave from Punta Norte Orca Research.

The team members made a noose on a pole, crept up the beach and captured the seal so the strapping could be safely removed. Even a young fur seal can pack a powerful bite.

Once it had been freed the team continued to monitor the seal, watching it swim and rejoin the sea lions.

Mr Copello, who has lived in the area all his life, said fur seals were not common at Punta Norte but they did occasionally join the sea lions.

"This one got lucky that David Jenkins spotted it, so we could all help," he said.

Dr Visser returned home this week from Argentina.

- Northern Advocate

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