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Veterinary scene Down Under: Sea lion research, plus AVA Annual Conference and more

dvm360dvm360 June 2023
Volume 54
Issue 6
Pages: 74

A research study on Australian sea lions; and the Australian Veterinary Association’s national conference and wellness symposium set to kick off in Adelaide

Australian sea lion study

Researchers studying the endangered Australian sea lion off the coast of Western Australia are using satellite monitoring tags to track the marine animals to determine the range of their foraging behavior and support estimates of species population size, which is sadly declining.

The Australian sea lion is 1 of 6 sea lion species in the world and is the only species found in Australian waters, including in South Australia and Western Australia. The species experienced a serious decline in population from commercial harvesting in the 19th century, from which they have never recovered.

An Australian sea lion (Photo courtesy of Richard Tunnicliffe).

An Australian sea lion (Photo courtesy of Richard Tunnicliffe).

“The population of Australian sea lions is decreasing nationwide, exacerbated by various threats to the species, and the fact that they reproduce slowly and many of their breeding colonies are small and relatively isolated from other colonies, so they have a high risk of local extinction,” explained associate professor Chandra Salgado Kent, PhD, MSc, BS, from Edith Cowan University’s (ECU) Center for Marine Ecosystems Research in the School of Science.

The research is being led jointly by ECU and the Western Australia Government’s Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions (DBCA) , in collaboration with the state’s Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD), and the Australian National University. The Australian sea lion project forms part of the Western Australian Marine Science Institution (WAMSI) Westport Marine Science Program.

Researchers engaging in the Australian sea lion field research project (Photo courtesy of Chandra P Salgado Kent).

Researchers engaging in the Australian sea lion field research project (Photo courtesy of Chandra P Salgado Kent).

Several wildlife veterinarians have been involved with the research to anesthetize the sea lions so that they can attach satellite tags, plus collect biological samples and body measurements.

“This research is vitally important, and the use of satellite tags to track the sea lions provides insight into key foraging areas which will help assess potential impacts of human activities on the species as well as inform conservation management plans,” said wildlife veterinarian Simone Vitali, BSc, BVMS (Hons), PhD, MANZCVS (Zoo Animal Medicine).

“The anesthetic regime we used had never been tried before in this particular species, but the collaborative support was amazing, and the researchers were very open to trying a combination that had shown great efficacy in fur seals. The sea lions did really well with the novel regime, and we were able to attach the satellite tags, get samples and take body measurements very efficiently and safely.”

Veterinarian Brett Gardner, BVSc, MANZCVS (Zoo Animal Medicine), from Werribee Open Range Zoo in Victoria was also involved in the field research project.

“Rarely does a team come together that does not know one another to trial a novel anesthetic combination on an endangered species, let alone a free-ranging marine mammal. It was an absolute privilege to work with such amazing colleagues. We were able to ensure optimal safety and positive welfare outcomes for the endangered sea lions using modern advances in marine mammal anesthesia. This research is critical to improving our understanding of our only endemic pinniped,” said Gardner.

Key threats to the species include bycatch and entanglement in fishing gear, interactions with aquaculture operations, collisions with vessels, disease, human disturbance, habitat degradation including prey depletion, climate change, and marine pollution including noise exposure. Given the endangered status of the Australian sea lion, boat users and recreational fishers are encouraged to minimize disturbance to and interactions with these inquisitive marine mammals, and to travel slowly within proximity of islands with sea lions to avoid collisions.

“When the sea lions are resting at haul-out islands off the Perth metropolitan region, they are resting from long foraging journeys, and recovering from significant energy spent. We can help them recover by leaving them undisturbed and keeping our distance,” said Salgado Kent.

“Sea lions also get entangled in rubbish and fishing gear and can incur injuries which are sometimes fatal, due to these entanglements. To avoid inadvertently impacting these animals, we can take our rubbish home, and discard fishing gear responsibly. By gathering more knowledge and sharing it with each other, we can be better informed as a community to make decisions that will ensure our industry-related and recreational activities in the ocean don’t impact sea lion populations.”

AVA Annual Conference 2023

The South Australian city of Adelaide is set to host the Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) 2023 annual national conference from May 28, 2023, to June 2, 2023, with the theme of Refresh, Renew, Refocus. The event’s opening plenary session is a panel discussion focused on veterinary workforce challenges. Further plenary sessions feature Olivia Oginska on using emotional agility to protect your team and business, Marie-Claire Ross highlighting 3 powerful secrets to retaining your people, and Jane Sykes discussing leptospirosis, which is a One Health issue in companion animals.

Keynote speakers presenting multiple seminars at the conference include Jennifer Hatzel on equine topics, Willana Basuki on small animal dentistry, Trepheena Hunter on small animal behavior topics, and Jane Sykes presenting on a range of small animal topics. The AVA is also hosting a THRIVE Wellness Symposium on the opening Sunday of the conference, featuring Liv Oginska, Paul Davey, and Amanda Goodfellow who will take participants on a wellness journey to help them cultivate a thriving veterinary career.

More information about is the conference is available here: https://avaconference2023.com.au

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