If you don't think twice about the plastic strap around a package, here's why you should.

Picture a young sea lion — let's call him Joey — taking an afternoon swim along the coast of Alaska and coming upon a long, shiny plastic loop.

Of course, Joey doesn't know the loop is plastic. All he knows is that he's never seen something like this wriggling through the water before, and he'd love to play with it.  

"Sea lions are curious and playful creatures by nature," explains Sue Goodglick, a wildlife biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game program that studies and tracks Steller sea lions like Joey. So, she says, when they come across plastic objects like this, they usually like to play with it.


A Steller sea lion in southeast Alaska. Photo via Cale Green/Flickr.

Joey is only 2 years old — a juvenile — so playing is his top priority right now. It's how he practices hunting and swimming so he can be prepared for whatever life throws at him.

He doesn't know this plastic thing isn't a glimmering fish or a fun piece of kelp but something dangerous.

It probably got to the ocean after someone a little too eager to open their package of new hair products tossed it carelessly aside after unwrapping the box. When people don't take time to properly discard plastic items like package wrappings, these items can end up on the street and make their way to the ocean through storm drains and other waterways. And even if people do toss such items in the trash, if they are not secured, they are light enough to blow away and right into Joey's path.

Image via Wild Wind/Flickr.

Curious, Joey uses his whiskers, mouth, and flippers to check out this potential new toy.

He almost looks like he's dancing as he turns his head upside down, somersaults, and bops the packing strap with his nose. But as he plays, this strap easily gets stuck around his neck, and without "hands" to pull it off, the loop stays put, like a plastic necklace.

Plastic bands like this one, usually made to wrap around cardboard boxes, are created to be durable, so unlike other materials, they take a long time to degrade on their own. In fact, nobody knows for sure how long plastic takes to break down in the ocean, but estimates say it likely takes decades — maybe even up to 450 years for larger plastic items.

This means that as Joey grows, that plastic "necklace" doesn't come off. Instead, it gets tighter and tighter around him, like a noose, cutting into his skin and muscles. This can lead to infections, slow down his range of movement, suffocate him, or cause starvation and death because he can't move around to find food.

A Steller sea lion entangled in a packing band. Photo by Alaska Department of Fish and Game (research activities were conducted pursuant to a National Marine Fisheries Service permit).

Joey is far from the only sea lion to get hurt by plastic items. 8 million tons of plastic go into the ocean and hurt more than 800 species of animals every year.

These include marine critters like sea turtles, dolphins, whales, and fish. Some mistake plastic for food. Others, like Joey, get tangled up while playing or just swimming around. This is bad news for humans, too, because plastic has been showing up in our seafood after the fish we eat consume it.

"Many types of wildlife are simply unable to avoid encountering [marine debris]," Goodglick says, and Steller sea lions are one of them. Plastic packing bands like the one Joey found are particularly hard for sea lions to resist, making them one of the most dangerous and deadly plastic items. In fact, since 1980, the world population of Steller sea lions has fallen from 300,000 to less than 100,000 — and plastic packing bands are one of the reasons why.

Three plastic packing bands wrapped around a box. Photo by Alaska Department of Fish and Game (research activities were conducted pursuant to a National Marine Fisheries Service permit).

Declining Steller sea lion populations can have a huge effect because without them, the ocean ecosystem where they live can be thrown off balance due to what scientists call top-down trophic cascade. Sea lions are top-level predators, so their eating habits affect the population and behavior of their prey. Without enough of them to keep prey populations in check, other ocean resources can become depleted. Not only that, but sea lion poop is also important in providing essential nutrients for ocean life.

This is why Goodglick is so dedicated and passionate about making sure that we all help prevent further harm to ocean wildlife.

"We all need to take action to prevent new marine debris getting into our oceans and help clear out what's already there," she says.

Volunteers help clean debris from the beach. Image via Cindy Sabato/Compass Rose Beach ICC Cleanup/Flickr.

Making a difference doesn't even have to be complicated — we could all make a difference with a few simple changes.

We can "lose the loop" or cut items like packing bands before we throw them away. That way, if the item happens to cross Joey's path, it won't form a noose and entangle him.

We can also dispose of trash properly — recycle plastic materials, reuse them if you can, and secure garbage can lids so nothing blows away. And if we see someone else's trash on the beach, we still have a chance to grab and secure it before it ends up in the water for Joey to find. Plus, for those who live near the coast, there are always local shoreline cleanups looking for volunteers to help them get rid of the trash that's out there.

Image via Cale Green/Flickr.

But wherever we live, being mindful of our behavior using and disposing of plastic is still important. "Remember our lands and oceans are connected!" Goodglick says. When we rely on single-use plastic for everyday items like water bottles, we create more and more trash that can find its way to water systems through storm drains.

You probably don't feel like a hero when you cut a plastic packing band. But for marine life like Joey, it can be a  life-saving act.

Image via Carolyn J. Gudmundson/Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge/Wikimedia Commons.

And that means you're actually doing a favor for all of the rest of us, too. After all, the ocean provides us with food and nutrients — it sustains all life on this planet. So when that adorable, playful sea lion called Joey can't even get through an afternoon swim without a piece of plastic threatening his life, that's a bad sign for the rest of us. It means we're not caring for the very ocean that keeps us alive.

But when we make a few simple changes to keep plastic out of the ocean, we ensure a healthy planet for all of us. And Joey gets to enjoy his playtime in peace, satisfying his curiosity for life with seashells, kelp, and the other natural treasures he's meant to find.

Cats are notoriously weird. Everyone who's had cats knows that they each have their own unique quirks, idiosyncrasies, preferences, habits, and flat-out WTFness.

But even those of us who have experience with bizarre cat behavior are blown away by the antics this "cat dad" is able to get away with.

Kareem and Fifi are the cat parents of Chase, Skye, and Millie—literally the most chill kitties ever. They share their family life on TikTok as @dontstopmeowing, and their videos have been viewed millions of times. When you see them, you'll understand why.

Take Chase's spa days, for example. It may seem unreal at first, but watch what happens when Fifi tries to take away his cucumber slices.

When she puts them back on his eyes? WHAT?! What cat would let you put them on once, much less get mad when you take them off?

This cat. Chase is living his best life.

But apparently, it's not just Chase. Skye and Millie have also joined in "spaw day." How on earth does one couple end up with three hilariously malleable cats?

Oh, and if you think they must have been sedated or something, look at how wide awake they are during bath time. That's right, bath time. Most cats hate water, but apparently, these three couldn't care less. How?

They'll literally do anything. The Don't Stop Meowing channel is filled with videos like this. Cats wearing glasses. Cats wearing hats. Cats driving cars. It's unbelievable yet highly watchable entertainment.

If you're worried that Kareem gets all the love and Fifi constantly gets the shaft, that seems to be a bit for show. Look at Chase and Fifi's conversation about her leaving town for a business trip:

The whole channel is worth checking out. Ever seen a cat being carried in a baby carrier at the grocery store? A cat buckled into a car seat? Three cats sitting through storytime? It's all there. (Just a heads up: A few of the videos have explicit language, so parents might want to do a preview before watching with little ones.) You can follow the couple and their cats on all their social media channels, including Instagram and YouTube if TikTok isn't your thing, here.

If you weren't a cat person before, these videos might change your mind. Fair warning, however: Getting a cat because you want them to do things like this would be a mistake. Cats do what they want to do, and no one can predict what weird traits they will have. Even if you raise them from kittenhood, they're still unpredictable and weird.

And honestly, we wouldn't have them any other way.

True

We're redefining what normal means in these uncertain times, and although this is different for all of us, love continues to transform us for the better.

Love is what united Marie-Claire and David Archbold, who met while taking a photography class. "We went into the darkroom to see what developed," they joke—and after a decade of marriage, they know firsthand the deep commitment and connection romantic love requires.

All photos courtesy of Marie-Claire and David Archbold

However, their relationship became even sweeter when they adopted James: a little boy with a huge heart.

In the United States alone, there are roughly 122,000 children awaiting adoption according to the latest report from the U.S Department of Health and Human Services. While the goal is always for a child to be parented by and stay with their biological family, that is not always a possibility. This is where adoption offers hope—not only does it create new families, it gives birth parents an avenue through which to see their child flourish when they are not able to parent. For the right families, it's a beautiful thing.

The Archbolds knew early on that adoption was an option for them. David has three daughters from a previous marriage, but knowing their family was not yet complete, the couple embarked on a two-year journey to find their match. When the adoption agency called and told them about James, they were elated. From the moment they met him, the Archbolds knew he was meant to be part of their family. David locked eyes with the brown-eyed baby and they stared at each other in quiet wonder for such a long time that the whole room fell silent. "He still looks at me like that," said David.

The connection was mutual and instantaneous—love at first sight. The Archbolds knew that James was meant to be a part of their family. However, they faced significant challenges requiring an even deeper level of commitment due to James' medical condition.

James was born with congenital hyperinsulinism, a rare condition that causes his body to overproduce insulin, and within 2 months of his birth, he had to have surgery to remove 90% of his pancreas. There was a steep learning curve for the Archbolds, but they were already in love, and knew they were committed to the ongoing care that'd be required of bringing James into their lives. After lots of research and encouragement from James' medical team, they finally brought their son home.

Today, three-year-old James is thriving, filled with infectious joy that bubbles over and touches every person who comes in contact with him. "Part of love is when people recognize that they need to be with each other," said his adoptive grandfather. And because the Archbolds opted for an open adoption, there are even more people to love and support James as he grows.

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