Shoring up help for Victoria’s marine wildlife

agl marine response unit rescues injured seals from in and around melbourne's port phillip bay
Zoos Victoria is doing a wonderful job at making waves in wildlife conservation, and AGL is riding alongside them.

The team that’s turning the tide.

Seal, whales, dolphins, turtles, sharks – all of our ocean friends in Victoria’s bays and waterways can rest a little easier, thanks to the innovative AGL Marine Response Unit.

In a state first, the unit was established by Zoos Victoria to rescue marine animals in distress – particularly seals caught up in rubbish like discarded fishing line. And their work relies heavily on community involvement.

Members of the public are encouraged to report any marine life they see are in trouble. Once a call comes through, the team jump into action with back-up from Melbourne Zoo’s veterinary team. And since first starting a couple of years back, they’ve answered more than 500 calls for help.

In keeping with its commitment to the environment and conservation, AGL has proudly supported Zoos Victoria for over two years. Mark Keenan, head of the AGL Marine Response Unit, says that while the unit initially came about in 2013 to help injured seals, the number of marine animals needing a helping hand has grown rapidly.

“Every year we respond to cases of wildlife becoming entangled in a range of debris ranging from fishing lines and nets to snorkelling masks and hats,” Keenan says. “Any circular piece of debris is a potential hazard for marine wildlife. We’ve responded to cases involving seals, dolphins, whales, birds, turtles, sharks, stingrays and fish. It varies from season to season.”

The kindness that comes after cruelty.

Thankfully, acts of deliberate animal cruelty are rare. But sadly, there are still some cases that show they’re taking place.

“We received a report of a seal with a fishing hook lodged in his back in Port Phillip Bay. Luckily we were able to locate the seal quickly and sedate him. When we had a closer look at the injuries we decided it would be best to take him back to the zoo for further treatment.”

It was originally thought to be a fishing hook. But it turned out to be a handmade harpoon weapon lodged in the seal in what Keenan describes as “a malicious act of animal cruelty”.

Moving quickly, Keenan teamed up with a vet and keeper from the zoo to treat the injured mammal. “We operated and dislodged the spearhead out of his back, stitched him up and administered antibiotics and pain relief. The seal recovered overnight and we were able to successfully release him the next day.”

The team even tagged the seal so they could keep track of him and his recovery. “He seems to be doing really well out there. He was pretty flat for the first couple of days but he looks to have made a full recovery.”

agl marine response unit rescues injured seals from in and around melbourne's port phillip bay

Small in size, big in impact.

If not for Victorians looking out for their state’s marine wildlife, the unit’s small crew wouldn’t be making such an enormous difference.

“We can only respond when we hear about these things, so we rely entirely on people to call in,” Keenan says. “Calls often come from tour operators, people out fishing, wildlife organisations, or the general public who spot an animal in trouble.”

The goal of Operation Bay Watch is simple: attract an extra 50,000  sets of eyes and strengthen the AGL Marine Response Unit’s efforts. Why? Because the more people who know how to make the call, the more marine wildlife we can save. And it’s our local water-bound community of boaters, fishers and swimmers that can play the biggest role.

To raise the alarm with the AGL Marine Response Unit, call 1300 AGL MRU (1300 245 678).

Read more about AGL’s commitment to partnering with community organisations.