U.S. Postal Service issues a National Marine Sanctuaries stamp series, including an image of California sea lions at the Santa Barbara Channel Islands. | Credit: U.S. Postal Service

California sea lions at the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary will soon join Elvis Presley and Wonder Woman in having their image on a U.S. postage stamp. Starting August 5, a new series called National Marine Sanctuaries will be issued and liven up the first-class envelopes sent by those who still correspond by pen and paper.

The sea lions’ photo was taken by Jeff Harris, a research ecologist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration based in Seattle. That day, Harris said he was at the east end of San Miguel Island to look for animals entangled in gill netting or other marine debris, as he has been doing for the past 15 years.

Jeff Harris and a colleague crawl toward a sea lion, using an elephant seal for cover, in order to cut loose a loop of gill netting caught around its neck. | Credit: Jeff Harris/NOAA

“This is a big open beach, and it usually has a few thousand juvenile and adult female California sea lions using it,” Harris said. “Because it is so big and open, I have to crawl down the beach to get close to the animals … The best approach is to use the sleeping elephant seals to block you from the vision of the sea lions.”

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Harris said he took the shot toward the end of the day when the light was good, and that it’s Santa Rosa Island in the background of the image. What was even better that day, he and his team were able to remove the loops of gill net cutting into the necks of five or six sea lions. In a video, Harris and colleagues can be seen inching near the animals, chasing one down, and netting it. They then work to cut the net loose from a deep open wound in the animal’s neck, “It is a rewarding task, and that work is funded by NOAA’s West Coast Regional Center and NOAA’s Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Network,” said Harris. “I do not ever get tired of the Channel Islands.”

The deep scar shows where the net cut into the sea lion’s neck. | Credit: Jeff Harris/NOAA

In addition to California sea lions, the 16 stamps feature locations above and below the water, a shark, jellyfish, and other aquatic creatures at the 15 sanctuaries and two marine national monuments in the U.S. The sanctuary system celebrates its 50th birthday on October 23, and the reverse side of the sheet of stamps is printed with a map that shows them all. The price per sheet is $9.60, which reflects an increase in one ounce of first-class mail from 58 cents to 60 cents on July 10.

The price increase and the attractive stamps issued by the post office are moves to support a system that still hemorrhages cash in the face of more competition, electronic mail, and the decline of the art of letter writing. The embattled Louis DeJoy remains head of the Postal Service, and in March, Congress passed reforms to the agency’s finances, primarily its pension system. Future postal retirees will enroll in Medicare, and $107 billion in retiree health-care benefit liabilities were moved from the agency’s books, according to the Washington Post. That leaves the Postal Service $131 billion in the red and customers still facing delayed first-class mail. New trucks and increased package service, including shipping COVID test kits, are among DeJoy’s actions to stem the losses.

The National Marine Sanctuaries Forever stamps will be released August 5. | Credit: U.S. Postal Service

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