Marine Mammal Entanglement Up Close & Personal

By Charmaine Coimbra

This year I’ve been up close and personal with marine entanglement. A near-handful of northern elephant seals that hauled out to molt at Piedras Blancas, where I volunteer as a docent,  arrived with strapping bands around their necks.  If the straps can’t be removed, these elephant seals will likely die from entanglement.  The one here is a juvenile male. (I took this photo with my Blackberry.)  He’s maybe 700 pounds.  If he survives the entanglement he could  grow to an eventual 2-ton, 16-foot behemoth.  Where did the plastic strapping band come from?  We know it didn’t grow in the ocean. 

Trash that ends up in the sea could have easily floated down a river, like from the Mississippi River floods this spring that eventually drained into the Gulf of Mexico.  All the  trash either scattered about in storms or carelessly tossed, then caught in the flood’s headwaters, likely landed in the Gulf.  The Gulf Stream Path catches the trash from St. Louis, which can be picked up in the southerly flow to Africa or South America, or in the northerly flow shipping Montana’s garbage to Europe and beyond.  This is trash off the east side of our Continental Divide.

The Pacific Gyre includes drainage on the western side of our Continental Divide and  encompasses every nation on the entire Pacific Rim.  My trash becomes Russia’s trash and so on. 

From The California Coast
Common items like fishing line, strapping bands and six-pack rings can hamper the mobility of marine animals. Once entangled, animals have trouble eating, breathing or swimming, all of which can have fatal results. Plastics take hundreds of years to breakdown and may continue to trap and kill animals year after year.


Birds, fish and mammals often mistake plastic for food. Some birds even feed it to their young. With plastic filling their stomachs, animals have a false feeling of being full, and may die of starvation. Sea turtles mistake plastic bags for jellyfish, one of their favorite foods. Even gray whales have been found dead with plastic bags and sheeting in their stomachs.

For more information about how trash from your yard in Kansas or Queensland, or Tokyo, or anywhere in the world spreads click this link:  Why is The World’s Biggest Landfill The Pacific Ocean?

Categories: Condition of Oceans, Fishing Lines, Ghost Nets, Great Pacific Trash Island, Gulf of Mexico, North Pacific Gyre, Plastics and marine mammals, Rivers to the Sea, Saving the Oceans, Trash Gyre, Whales

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