Australia: Seals at tourism hotspot suffering slow and painful deaths caused by helium balloons

Nicole Asher ABC 23 Feb 17;

Helium balloons are killing wildlife at one of Victoria's most popular nature tourism destinations.

An Australian fur seal is the latest animal to be saved from a painful death caused by a burst balloon.

Researchers at Phillip Island are reporting that an increasing number of birds and animals are ingesting, or becoming tangled in, the remnants of burst helium balloons.

A young fur seal was saved by researchers this week after it was discovered with balloon ribbon wrapped around its neck.

Without intervention, the seal would have suffered and died a slow death while it grew with the ribbon cutting into its flesh.

The researchers said the birds and animals they saved were just the tip of the iceberg.

Phillip Island Nature Parks research manager Peter Dann said they did not know how many animals were falling victim to balloons and the ribbons, known as bands.

He said the seal rescued this week was one of the lucky ones.

"Our rangers managed to catch it and found that it had a balloon band wrapped around its neck several times; they found it was cutting into the animal's flesh," Dr Dann said.

"It would have died quite slowly in the long term if they hadn't been able to remove it, but now its prospects of recovery are extremely good.
"Birds too — short-tailed shearwaters, or mutton birds that Phillip Island's famous for, as well as penguins — are particularly prone to picking up things on the surface of the sea.

"They pick up these balloons and balloon bands and they end up bring them back and feeding them to their chicks."

When balloons fly, seabirds die

The Phillip Island Nature Reserve has joined forces with Zoos Victoria to launch a campaign called When Balloons Fly, Seabirds Die, encouraging people to stop releasing helium balloons.

Zoos Victoria chief executive Jenny Gray said released balloons often ended up in the ocean.

"Every day balloons are released or escape at outdoor events because people don't realise this is creating a very real threat to wildlife," Dr Gray said.

Dr Dann said the problem was growing around Phillip Island.

"We've had at least a dozen fur seals entangled with these balloons strings, or bands, in the last five years that we know of, that we've actually caught and removed the string from," he said.

"We're noticing on Phillip Island that we're getting more and more balloon bands turning up with exploded balloons on the end on the beaches.

"It would probably come as a surprise to many people that whey they celebrate some happy event by releasing balloons, there are consequences further down the line."

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