Returning Home

When you have a baby, you know what to expect after gathering information from media, the community, and even your own parents; a lot of eating, poopy diapers, crying, and an intense heartwarming joy. Well, when I began volunteering for the Organization for Research and Conservation for Aquatic Animals (ORCA), I had no idea that I would be dealing with these same issues and feelings, times six. No, I did not go to ORCA to take care of babies, and no I did not have six babies when I arrived to ORCA. In actuality, I was partially responsible for the care of six young sea lions – who surprisingly, simply ate, pooped, cried, and filled me with an intense heartwarming joy.

When I arrived at ORCA on September 7th, 2017, there were already six young sea lions at the facility in rehabilitation. These marine mammals had been rescued by ORCA within the last few months because they were found abandoned and without their mothers. I hate to group them together as simply a rescue group, because each individual sea lion had their own personality and I was lucky enough to get to know each of them – but that’s a whole different story. Today we’re going to talk about the end of my journey with these beautiful creatures, their release back into the Pacific Ocean.

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On September 17th, 2017, six young sea lions were about to take the trip of a lifetime, in fact Josey, Joan, Star, Veronica, Ahab and Nepal, were taking a trip to a whole new life. I remember leaping out of bed before my alarm went off and racing to get dressed so I could help feed them, prepare kennels and weigh each of the sea lions. After the early morning work was done we paired them up and shuffled them into large dog kennels to load into the back of the cars. We crammed 5 of us in a pickup truck and another call full of volunteers followed us. The plan was to arrive at Wakama beach in the early afternoon for the sea lion release. But the plan quickly changed as the brakes broke on the truck and we pulled over to wait for help. Ten minutes passed, then thirty, then forty-five and I was restless. The heat was beating down on my shoulders and I could only imagine how uncomfortable the sea lions had to be in their crates. We unloaded them from the truck and I stood on the side of the road watching the kennels, while everyone else attempted to make phone calls with their spotty reception – I’m sure it was an interesting sight for those driving by. After an hour of waiting, the driver got ahold of a tow truck and a friend who was willing to make the trip up to Wakama beach with us. After the time had passed, a car full of volunteers decided to turn back, but the rest of us continued. As we continued on our journey, the car troubles were simply another bump in the road (and believe me, Peru has a lot of bumps in the road!).

As we pulled up on the beach of Wakama, we unloaded the sea lions from the back of the car and lined up the kennels on a little hill a few feet from the water’s edge. I could feel my heart pound inside my chest. We had the rescue boards lined up to direct them to the ocean. I was expecting them to stay in the kennels not knowing what to do, but in a short countdown, I was amazed. Three, two, one. We opened the kennels. To my surprise, with a little guidance, all of the sea lions scurried into the ocean and swam out together.

These outstanding marine mammals once again get to call the ocean home, and have another chance at survival, all thanks to ORCA’s organization and efforts, which for two months, I was proudly apart of.

As I watched Josey, Joan, Victoria, Star, Ahab and Nepal swim out deeper into the ocean I felt like I was letting my babies go. When your child is going off to college, you know what to expect; intense pride, intense joy and a little bit of aching in your heart. When I began volunteering at ORCA I had no idea that I would be dealing with these same issues and feelings, times six at their release.

Written by Amanda Pass, ORCA International Volunteer from Minnesota, United States. September-October, 2017. 

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Rescue Mission in Huanchaco!

Following the excitement and media attention of “Cayetano”, the Southern Elephant Seal, our phone was ringing daily with new sea lion sightings. Unfortunately, most of these sightings were either terminal or too far away from the clinic. One day, we received a call that stood out from the rest. A veterinarian in Huanchaco by the name of Dr. Selene Diaz was calling to inform us that she had spotted what she thought to be a small sea lion on the beach. After closer inspection from the photos she sent us, it was apparent to Dr. Yaipén-Llanos that it was a juvenile male Galapagos Fur Seal clearly dehydrated and far from home. Due to his low energy levels, Dr. Diaz was able to restrain him with a towel and bring him in to her clinic where he could rest and recover away from curious beach-goers. Since Lima is about 9 hours south of Huanchaco and the fur seal was in no shape to make the long journey, the best option was for Dr. Yaipén-Llanos and I to go to him. Dr. Yaipén-Llanos advised Dr. Diaz to give the seal subcutaneous fluids and keep him in isolation until we arrived in Huanchaco. With that, we quickly packed our bags with medical supplies, paperwork and rescue equipment, and hopped on an overnight bus heading north!

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The next morning, we arrived at Dr. Diaz´s veterinary clinic and immediately got to work. The three of us worked together to restrain the fur seal (who Dr. Diaz had affectionately named Patrizio), take measurements, withdraw blood, take a distemper test, and administer antibiotic injections. Patrizio looked more alert and hydrated compared to the initial photos and things were looking good for him to be released later that day.

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As we were finishing up Patrizio´s treatment, Dr. Yaipén-Llanos received a call about an adult female sea lion in distress on the docks nearby… never a dull moment in wildlife rescue! We left Patrizio to rest for a few hours and we rushed over to the beach to assess the new rescue situation. We arrived at the scene as fast as we could but the sea lion had already drawn a big crowd of tourists, locals, and reporters. The local police had gotten there before us and were attempting to handle the situation but they had no previous experience nor appropriate training – understandably, sea lion rescue isn’t part of the curriculum in police academy! We knew we had to work fast before the situation got out of hand and the best way to accomplish that was through team work. We worked together with the police, they restrained her while we performed the medical procedures. From a visual examination, we could tell that she was disoriented but not emaciated. The most concerning thing was that she seemed to have absolutely no vision in both her eyes. This could be due to shock, trauma or ocean pollution.

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Since she showed no signs of disease or sickness other than loss of vision, after doing blood withdrawals and administering antibiotic injections, Dr. Yaipén-Llanos used a rescue board to encourage her back into the water. Even without sight, once the water touches their flippers, marine mammals are naturally able to navigate their way in the ocean, using the current as their guide. As predicted, once the sea lion entered the water, she oriented herself appropriately and swam further away from the shore. While the crowd was still gathered around us to Dr. Yaipén-Llanos took the opportunity to educate them on pollution and how it harms the animals that live in the ocean. Public rescues are not only great in terms of saving the lives of stranded marine animals, but they are also great ways to educate the public about what they can do to help prevent future strandings.

As we were packing up our equipment, the police approached us and asked Dr. Yaipén-Llanos for a workshop on marine mammal rescue. Dr. Yaipén-Llanos happily agreed and gave a workshop there on the spot! Since ORCA is the only marine rescue organization in Peru, it is vital to have law enforcement on our side, trained, and ready to help in different locations along the Peruvian coast. The police in Huanchaco seemed genuinely interested in the work we were doing and wanted to help more – they even offered to help us transport and escort Patrizio for his rescue in the evening!

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Back at the clinic: Patrizio was looking even brighter and more alert than ever before. As he had passed his assessment, he was deemed ready to be released. Unlike his first restraining with Dr. Diaz, Patrizio was feisty when we restrained him this time (a sign that he was feeling better and had more energy!). We tagged him with a yellow ORCA tag and set him up in a kennel I the back of the police truck.

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The police drove us to an isolated beach a few minutes away from the beach and helped us carry the kennel close to the water. It was clear that Patrizio was eager to escape the kennel and we too, were excited to see him return home. We opened the kennel door and waited as he stared back at us in disbelief for a moment before he made a dash (more like a hobble) for the water! He was so excited that, as soon as the tide hit his flippers, he dove right into the sand! After his minor stumble, he got back up and carried on his way. We admired as he spent a few minutes near the shore bathing himself (getting rid of the human smell). It wasn’t long before he swam out of our sight, into the open ocean. Another exciting and successful rescue!

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During my month at ORCA I have learned so much about marine mammal rescue and now have a deeper appreciation and respect for the work that Dr. Yaipén-Llanos and the ORCA team do daily. Through their passion and hard work, ORCA educates and inspires the people in Peru to become friends of the ocean and their message saves hundreds of marine animals each year. I am leaving Peru with new insight and inspiration to continue pursuing a career in wildlife medicine and am excited to be a positive contributor in marine conservation!

Written by Samantha Lam, ORCA Intern from Canada, Summer, March-April 2016.

Rescue Mission in Lima: An elephant seal!

“Sam! Tenemos un ELEFANTE MARINO!”…Marine elephant? What?! At that moment, I knew it was going to be an eventful day. This morning, our phone would not stop ringing. It seemed like all of Lima was trying to reach us! We quickly prepared the medical kit, grabbed the rescue boards, and headed to the beach!

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When we arrived at the scene, we were immediately swarmed by a mob of reporters, police officers, government officials, local fishermen, and confused surfers, who were all wondering what the heck was going on. If sea-lions strand all the time along the coast, why was everyone making such a big deal over this? That was because what we had in front of us was a Southern Elephant Seal (Mirounga leonina), the largest living carnivore in the world! This specific individual was a juvenile male (not even close to fully grown) who was a long way from home. It was very unusual to see an Elephant Seal in Peru – in fact, Dr. Yaipén-Llanos had only ever spotted one other in Peru in his 15 years of working in this field. These guys usually live much further south (Patagonia, Argentina), with their main feeding area being the edge of the Antarctic.

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We did a visual assessment and noticed that he had white foam coming out of his nostrils and Seal Pox around his face. These were signs of possible Pneumonia and immune suppression, usually linked to Distemper Virus (a mutation of Canine Distemper Virus). Since the seal was way too big to restrain and bring back to the rescue center, we had to devise a plan to treat him on-site. We gathered the rescue team and instructed them to create a barrier with the rescue boards, to prevent the seal from entering the water, while Dr. Yaipén-Llanos and I attempted to administer treatment. We managed to inject him with antibiotics before he broke through the barrier and went off into the ocean. Truthfully, there was not much more we could do to help him. There are many factors that could have contributed to his immune system suppression, with pollution being one of them, without a doubt.

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While we still had the attention of the public, Dr. Yaipén-Llanos took this opportunity to educate them – after all, education is the key to conservation! With the drastic change in climate we’ve been experiencing recently (also known as El Niño), many strange things have been occurring world-wide; abnormal water temperatures, sightings of species in areas where they normally are never spotted, and lack of species in areas where they usually thrive this time of year.

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Climate change is real and animals are the ones getting hit the hardest. We all have the responsibility to educate ourselves and be conscious citizens of this planet!  The news went worldwide, and locally, it had an impact enough to make it to the front page, always to remember!

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Written by Samantha Lam, ORCA Intern from Canada, Summer, March 2016.

Protest for Animal Rights in Peru

For us it all started the day we went to an organized peaceful protest outside the congress building. Inside the congress men and women were debating over several new laws but the one we were there for was the new animal rights legislation. Posers ranged from dog and cat signs to anti-bullfighting and then ORCA with our dolphin poster and message to the minister. At its peak there was almost 40 people there chanting and letting people in traffic know what was going on!

The most drama of the day happened when another group showed up in mass and started getting up close and personal with the police line. Apparently the guard thought it was on the verge of escalating as they brought out the big guns. Water and tear gas guns that is. The water truck started and cleared a few people out but not enough. So out came the tear gas! Most of the canisters were contained to the other side of the street but one (stray or aimed we’re not sure) made it over next to our group. Luckily everyone moved fast enough and only a few people ended up with mild symptoms. So within 10 minutes we were back louder than ever!

Unfortunately due to blundering politics and a few other factors the vote was not settled the first day. So one week later we were back at it. This week was much of the same with the same other group of protesters making another appearance as well. The other group running in our direction once the water guns started this time unfortunately ended in me getting soaked. But luckily it was a warm day and I dried fast enough.

Finally after over seven hours of waiting for the congress to vote we received the verdict we were hoping for! The Animal Rights and Welfare bill had been unanimously approved by congress! While this might not make a huge difference on its own, the animal centered organizations of Peru now have the law backing them up and a legal course of action they can take up against those harming and exploiting animals and their habitat. While the bill has made it through congress the President still needs to give his final approval. If you have a moment to help, this petition has been started by ORCA to keep the pressure on until the bill is finalized!

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Please Help!! This is a petition that an organization we’re volunteering with has started hoping to get a message through to the government. They, along with dozens of other animal welfare organizations, are asking the Peruvian congress to pass legislation giving animals’ basic rights. As of right now the laws they have are archaic and unenforced. This law will be a first step to protecting domestic, wild, endangered and agricultural animals.

Congress was supposed to vote last Thursday but one party walked out, leaving the remaining congress without quorum. Luckily one week later the congress voted unanimously and approved the law! However it still needs to be finalized with the Presidents approval. Help us keep the pressure on until we know the animals are safe!

A couple quick examples of why marine mammals are in desperate need of protection in Peru…

Just one month ago 230 dolphins and sea lions washed up dead on shore in Northern Peru. The government is claiming El Niño and disease are to blame but the stab wounds and crushed skulls tell a different story. Fishermen here have been known to form gangs and go out in numbers to kill and maim the animals as they see them as competition for the fish.  Often they stuff rat poison in fish and drop them near the islands where the sea lions live. Mass mortality events involving sea lions has happened twice before in the last few years confirmed to have been caused by humans.

In 2012 over 850 dead dolphins washed up along the Peruvian coast within a week. An oil company also happened to be conduction seismic and sonic testing offshore that week. All dolphins that were necropsied had died from massive internal bleeding cause by fractured ear bones. The immense sound blast used in these tests has been shown to cause these types of injuries and mass strandings.

In all cases the Peruvian government did nothing, or covered up the true cause of the mortalities. Legislation won’t fix everything at once but at least it’s a start! Please sign and share!

https://secure.avaaz.org/en/petition/The_Peruvian_Congress_We_call_on_you_to_pass_the_Animal_Welfare_and_Protection_Act/?pv=3&fb_action_ids=986839878042419&fb_action_types=avaaz-org%3Apost

Written by Elizabeth Penner, ORCA Intern from Canada, November 2015.

 

Survey at Playa Arica

Hola! Intern Kevin from Canada here! I wanted to discuss my first field day at ORCA, a mission to Playa Arica for a beach survey with the team south of Lima city.

Upon arrival at the beach the first thing we noticed were the number of fishing nets set out, there were at least 16 nets out in a 300m stretch of beach. This seemed like a lot, and sure enough we found three dead Humboldt penguins in that same stretch of beach. A necropsy on one of the penguins revealed the cause of death to be drowning. These little guys had gotten caught in the fishing nets and couldn’t return to the surface for air. Thirty-one dead cormorants also littered the beach, their necks broken from diving into the nets. Shockingly, we saw a young couple spending an afternoon at the beach drawing hearts in the sand amid the carnage, only a few meters away from a penguin carcass, completely oblivious or apathetic to the destruction around them.

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A little further down the beach we found a deceased male sub-adult sea lion. Due to the level of decomposition we determined it had been on the beach for about a week. Advanced decomposition around the head revealed the likely cause of death to be poisoning. We learned that sadly this was a pretty typical find since sea lions are frequently poisoned by fishermen since they are viewed as competition. Fishermen 35, sea life 0.

As the day went on we were excited to discover evidence of orca activity in the area, unfortunately this evidence was a dead dolphin and another sea lion. The dolphin, a female dusky dolphin, had a huge, fatal bite on its throat and lower jaw, which would have killed it immediately. Conical tooth marks in the surrounding area were key to identifying the killer as orca and not shark.

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The fact that the dolphin was killed and not eaten supports this conclusion, since female orcas often kill sea lions and dolphins to teach young orcas to hunt. A few hundred meters down the beach we found another sea lion, with circular wounds on its back and underside. After inspection we found that the pattern of the wounds matched that of an orca. Again the animal had not been consumed, supporting the orca conclusion.

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Overall it was an eye opening first field day in which I got to see some of the conservation issues facing the Peruvian coastline. Despite the sad start to the day, it was good to get out and see firsthand what we are fighting so hard against here at ORCA.

Written by Kevin Scharfferberg, ORCA Intern from Canada, November 2015.

“ESPERANZA” : A ray of HOPE!

“Esperanza” is the first sea lion I met in ORCA. When I arrived at ORCA base at April 1st, 2015, there’re 3 sea lions in our facility: “Mark”, “Logan” and “Esperanza”. “Mark” is a male juvenile who pretty much can be called hyperactive and was always moving lighting-fast toward the fish! “Logan” was a 3 months-old baby sea lion. And then there is “Esperanza” a female juvenile with an injured right flipper caused by direct human aggression. She was found stranded among the rocks at the beach of Club Regatas at Lima City Bay. The rescue was quick and easy since she was weak and exhausted.
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      When I arrived, she had already been with ORCA for 2 weeks. During these 2 weeks, “Esperanza” had a great recovery from the broken flipper (we found that with an x-ray) but by then she was able to stand up and slightly walk again. Unlike “Mark”, “Esperanza” is more of a easy-going sea lion. Whenever comes to feeding time, instead of rushing toward the fish like “Mark”, “Esperanza” always took her time to check around with curiousity, then approach to the fish. After 2 weeks feeding her fish in the water bowl, I started to notice that “Esperanza” was getting attach to the it. She started to play with the blow even though there was no fish inside and showed great interest to all the color plastic container such as water buckets! Therefore we decided to get “Esperanza” into water to check her ability at the next level of rehab, also to asses her willingness of eating fish inside water. When we got her into the pool, “Esperanza” was swimming happily and smoothly. However, she shown no interest to the fish inside the pool and kept looking for the plastic bowl! what to do?
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In order to get her ready for release, we had to help her to rebuild the connection between water and fish, something we do at ORCA with previous sea lions as part of the rehab process. Instead of thinking about plastic bowl=fish, she needs to know that it should be water=fish.
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This is a very interesting process. First, we started with adding extra water with fish. After she got use to the feeling of fish within water, we switched to a much bigger container so that she had to submerge her head in water to get fish. When all these process is completed, we placed the fish with plastic bowl on the surface of a swimming pool. The fish felt into the water when she try to get the fish. So she will get to practice getting and eating fish in the water, just like what they usually do in the wild!
A sea lion is such intelligent creature! It only took “Esperanza” 3 days to complete the whole process. Then she’s completely ready for release!!! We released her at a beach that is one hour drive from Lima downtown, called Asia, in front of an island where sea lions live. It only took her a few minutes to check on the wave. Then she just ran right into the water and swam off!  I’m so happy and excited watching her go back to where she belong!
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My time with “Esperanza” was a ray of HOPE for sea lions (actually ‘esperanza’ means ‘hope’ in Spanish)…I stayed for four months more after her release, and enjoyed every single sea lion, but “Esperanza” is very special to me now and forever.
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Written by IAN (Xiang Zhang), ORCA Volunteer from China, Winter 2015.

Help Alice, Read her story.

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This is “Alice”, she is 2 years of age female South American sea-lion (Otaria byronia).

“Alice” was found in Las Salinas beach high up in the rocks away from the ocean and away from people. Her rescue was quick and easy considering her location.

The cause of her stranding was a direct hit in the nose creating a fracture across the top frontal area of the nose. This was a typical -and commonly lethal-injury produced by human aggression. This injury has made hunting impossible for “Alice” making her unable to dive or even eat, leaving her in agonizing pain. Also “Alice” was found with wounds all over her body again caused by direct human aggression. Poor “Alice” was soon to die up in the rocks where she was found.

Alice logo4This is where “Alice” was rescued. She was rescued on the 24 of January of 2015.

She has been with orca for nine days, her improvement has been amazing. She lets us treat her with care and she is very responsive to the medical handling. She definitively is eager to live!

“Alice” was taken for an Xray on 29/1/15, it showed that “Alice” has already shown an impressive amount of regeneration in the fractured bone. With time it is hopeful that Alice’s nose will heal completely so she can dive and hunt in the ocean again.

Alice logo3When “Alice” first arrived she was unable to close her mouth because of the pain.

“Alice” is undergoing treatment, but still can’t eat for herself and has to be tubbed, this is likely going to continue for several weeks. But the future for “Alice” is bright, and she can continue her life in the ocean where her family is waiting, but to do this “Alice” needs your help too.  Her treatment is long and hard but worthy for an innocent and valuable life, please help her to go back to the ocean to be free again. Please become her God- parent and donate for “Alice” so she can survive.

Alice logo5Thank you for reading about “Alice”, her life is only just beginning, she is young and extremely strong willed, she wants to live …so let her, by donating to ORCA. In another 2 years time she will be becoming a new mother bringing new life in to this world, give her that opportunity and help us to help her.

Thanks to Tina Roenik from Norway, and to all our volunteers both international and local, adults and juniors, who help us and this young and incredible sea-lion.

After two months, “Alice” was released completely recovered back in the ocean on March 24th, 2015. Her case signify a huge step on medical treatment to recover this kind of human caused injuries. Sea-lions can survive human impact, when humans take responsibility to save sea-lion lifes as well.

ORCA Alice Release 2015

Peru is full of life, and South American sea-lions are natives to the Peruvian coastline. They have been here before the Inca times. This is their home. Let them live.

Respect Nature

Respect Life

Oceanize.

Help Us!

Contact us if you want to join us from overseas or donate! Follow us like Orca Peru in Facebook or send an e-mail to inforca@orca.org.pe

Thank you for your support!

Written by Connie Jones, Marine Biology Coordinator of the Science and Animal Welfare Department of ORCA for the Summer 2015.