03/12/2014 06:57 EDT | Updated 03/13/2014 05:59 EDT

Sea Lion's Rescue Shows Greater Issue Of Ocean Litter (PHOTOS)

After two days on Vancouver Island earlier this week, the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre team successfully saved a sea lion that was tangled in debris — but many more still in distress were left behind.

The team, joined by Fisheries and Oceans Canada, was able to tranquilize one adult male California sea lion and cut off a plastic packing strap as he slept. (Another sea lion was tranquilized and had a deep scar, but no actual entanglement.)

However, Vancouver Aquarium's lead veterinarian Dr. Martin Haulena estimates there could be as many as 400 sea lions in similar situations in B.C. Those who get tangled in debris usually die a slow and painful death.

One of them is Kiyo, a sea lion spotted on Feb. 21 in Fanny Bay on the Island with some kind of wire around its neck. A Facebook group was created to create awareness and ultimately get help for the animal, who has not been rescued yet.

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Sea Lion Rescue By Vancouver Aquarium

The problem, says the aquarium, is that rescuing sea lions takes a large, highly specialized team — so the process of saving them takes immense planning and time. Haulena is the only veterinarian in Canada who has experience tranquilizing sea lions.

The best thing you can do if you spot an animal in need, according to Haulena, is to call a professional.

Concerned citizens who are calling in about marine animals in distress are taking the right steps,” he said in a press release. “It’s important that people do not try to handle them. Improper removal of entangled gear may make the injury worse as vital structures, such as veins, arteries and nerves lie in close proximity to the entanglements.”

This latest sea lion rescue serves as a reminder of the greater issue at hand, states the press release:

The Aquarium also reminds the public to not dispose of debris into our rivers, lakes and oceans. Shoreline debris can often be confused by marine animals as food or they may become entangled.

If you want to help clean up the shoreline in your area, click here.

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