Welcome to our blog!
Tuesday, July 5, 2011
Ready for release after lots of practice swimming, diving and retrieving fish in his deep water pool, Mike is sporting the latest in Harbor seal hat wear. In fact, Mike's temporary hat tag will help scientists track his travel and success in the wild, and will fall off once he experiences his first, yearly molt.
Mike practices floating and gliding along the water's surface.
Mike spots something interesting and assumes a vertical water position. Known as "bottling," this behavior is common to Harbor seals and other marine mammals.
Life is good! Mike enjoys a quiet doze while "bottling" just a few days before his release... shhh!
Mike was one of the very first pups of the 2011 Harbor season. He was rescued on March 22nd, at Bolinas' Brighton Beach, and safely admitted to the Center's special Harbor Seal Hospital facility. Mike was suffering from severe maternal separation -- severe, because Mike couldn't have been more than just a few days old. "At only 7.6 kilograms, Mike still had a three-inch umbilicus and was slightly jaundiced," described Deb Wickham, the Center's veterinary science operations manager. "Mike was a premature newborn, had no teeth, and was still covered in a long, whitish coat of hair, his lanugo coat, typical of premature pups. This is usually lost before birth and is less common in full-term pups," added Wickham.
After Mike received his "admit exam," vet staff started him on a newborn pup protocol. He was first stabilized with a tub-fed combination of electrolytes and fluids to rehydrate him. Mike also received a regime of vitamin B-complex called, pinnivite, to boost his immune system, along with a series of antibiotics to help guard against a potential fatal umbilicus infection. Then, Mike received frequent, small tube-feedings of Harbor seal baby formula - much like human formula. Since Mike did not experience the benefits of being raised by his mother, his weaning process was much longer, than he would have experienced in the wild. During the wild-weaning period of six to eight weeks, Mike would have also received valuable antibodies from his mother's milk, along with crucial learning experiences in swimming, diving, finding and catching food. At the Center, under artificial conditions, it took Mike about three months to reach independence, which is typical for other Harbor seal patients his age.
In the early stages of Mike's recovery and growth, he was extremely lethargic, and described by vet staff as, sweet and low. "He was a "slow developer" and almost died a couple of times, with periodic bouts of inactive breathing common to fragile newborns," explained Wickham. "It was a challenge for vet staff and Harbor Crew volunteers to assess and differentiate Mike's weak and irregular breathing, and his overall unresponsiveness," described Wickham. Since Mike also presented with a faint and irregular heartbeat, vet staff decided to include a bronchial respiratory stimulant, doxopram, in his tube feedings. This helped his small, under-developed lungs do a better job of keeping him alive! "Any time we see pups this tiny and compromised, we have to provide this kind of supportive care," added Wickham.
It was touch and go, that first month of Mike's life at the Center, but he grew and gained strength steadily. About a month after his rescue, Mike was finally ready to learn how to feed on whole fish, inside his small and shallow water enclosure, designed specifically for pups his age. Shortly thereafter, Mike graduated to one of the Center's larger, deeper pools, designed for longer, deeper swimming and diving opportunities. These pools encourage pinniped patients of all ages and types, to build stamina, strength and agility, while independently retrieving and eating fish. Often there will be as many as five or six seals in one of these larger pools, and just as in the wild, Mike learned to "compete" for food, while still under veterinary care.
Finally, on June 22nd, almost three months to the day of his rescue, Mike was ready to return to his ocean home! He was joined by three of his pen-mates; Dog Biscuit, Noyobabe and Serenity, also young pups treated for maternal separation. All were successfully released at Scotty Creek Beach, in Sonoma County. Mike's story of rescue, rehabilitation and release, is a celebration of the challenging work staff and volunteers perform each and every day at The Marine Mammal Center. We all wish the very best for Mike... Good luck, little guy!
# # #
Saturday, July 2, 2011
Once stabilized and after he regained his strength, Paddle began to swim energetically within his Harbor Hospital water enclosure.
Paddle had just begun "fish school" and was learning how to accept small, whole fish that were hand-fed to him, on his pen-floor.
It took a village... Volunteer Harbor Crew supervisor, Stan Jensen, lended a hand to fellow volunteers, Jeop van Belkom, newly arrived from the Netherlands; and Kimberly Swan, a two year veteran, originally from New Zealand.
Article & Photos: Dina N. Warren, Communications and Harbor Crew volunteer.
The story of Paddle, the Harbor Seal Pup, was one of the most amazing and dramatic patient stories the Center has ever shared... However, this bittersweet saga of rescue and rehabilitation also comes with a heartbreaking end -- nevertheless, Paddle's story has to be told...
Paddle's rescue took place over the course of three days, with a carefully synchronized team of staff and volunteers working tirelessly, in a heroic effort to save this tiny, late season pinniped. The story began on May 31st, with local Standing volunteer and naturalist, Sarah Grimes, who was leading one of her tour-groups up the Big River Estuary, near Fort Bragg.
While describing the local sights, Sarah and her fellow Fort Brag Operations volunteer, Ben Schleifer, also with the Department of Fish and Game, spotted the tiny pinniped -- lethargic, emaciated and shaking. "He was vocal, but distressed and all alone on the riverbank. I was very concerned because it was quite late in the Northern California Harbor pupping season, and he was exceptionally small to be without his mother," explained Grimes. The next day, June 1st, Sarah decided to paddle up river again, to further assess the pup's condition -- but he was nowhere in sight.
Three days later, on June 2nd, the Center's Stranding Department in Sausalito, received a concerned citizen's call describing the very same pup! The Stranding Department quickly contacted Sarah and gave her permission to attempt rescue. Generously encouraged by her tour-operator to use their pontoon boat, Sarah paddled twice as far, four miles up the south side of Big River. "I was losing all hope when I came upon the most incredible sight!" explained Grimes. "There was "Paddle" still alone and very distressed -- but it looked like he was up in a tree!?" exclaimed Grimes. In fact, Paddle had climbed up a fallen tree branch,and was hanging on for dear life, dangling about 3 feet over the water!
Sarah hopped out of her outrigger and rescued the pup, wrapping him in a towel and safely securing him in the boat's front cargo hold. She furiously paddled back down to the river's mouth, placed the pup in a waiting transport carrier, and immediately drove 1.5 hours to Cloverdale. There, Paddle was transferred to waiting Stranding volunteers, Phil and Jean Warren. (Phil's also serves as a Board member.) After another hour's drive south, Paddle was transferred again, to Erin Brodie, one of the Center's Stranding coordinators, and her husband, Dan. Together, they drove Paddle from Novato to the Center's Harbor Seal Hospital, in Sausalito. That night, guided by the Center's veterinary team, Erin worked tirelessly to save the critical pup!
"Paddle was in pretty poor condition, suffering from severe dehydration, malnutrition and maternal separation. He went into hypoglycemic shock and was experiencing multiple seizures," explained Dr. Rebecca Greene, one of the Center's associate veterinarians. At barely 28 inches long and only 12.2 pounds, Paddle was considerably younger than most of the other Harbor seal patients. Together, Dr, Greene and Donna Why, a volunteer Harbor Crew supervisor, worked to save and stabilize Paddle, using a dextrose fluid IV and an anti-seizure medication, diazepam. Paddle's admit-exam also revealed congested upper airways and a slight heart murmur, so the Vet team ordered radiographs and echo cardiograms. Paddle was then prescribed antibiotics, doxycycline and clavamox, to rule out any pneumonia, and the veterinary team continued to monitor Paddle's heart murmur, which sometimes can resolve itself, as pups grow and develop.
Paddle was responding well to a series of tube-feedings, starting with baby formula and later with blended fish milkshakes consisting of salmon oil, herring and water. "He was very eager and energetic, once he was feeling better," explained Stan Jensen, another volunteer Harbor Crew supervisor. "We were all hoping and working for the best recovery and outcome." said Stan Jensen.
Then, something very disappointing happened with Paddle's story of survival. Little Paddle died over night, on July 1st, a month into his rehabilitation. "Unfortunately, Paddle succumbed to the extent of malnutrition and related challenges he'd faced," explained Dr. Jeff Boehm, the Center's executive director. Once Paddle had been stabilized, he began to respond to his treatment plan, and Harbor Crew volunteers and vet staff had become guardedly optimistic. "Though it's not good news... we stand to learn from Paddle's passing... in our post-mortem analysis, (which) we'll be sure to share," added Dr. Boehm.
It's always a risk to share and sometimes even to celebrate, our patients' amazing survival stories. But, as Dr. Boehm reminded us, "It is important to tell the complete story, which reflects the complexity and unpredictability of the Center's work." It is true, that dear little Paddle's passing will yield more scientific knowledge for our current and future pinniped patients...
We are all greatly saddened by his passing. But, we were privileged to have cared for this special pinniped patient, and hoped and worked for his recovery and release back into the wild. We're sorry he didn't make it -- our brave little Paddle!
# # #
Saturday, June 11, 2011
A leopard Shark washes ashore, in distress and dying, on Ocean Beach in San Francisco.
Dr. Bill Van Bonn and Dr. Martha Delaney, work quickly to sample blood from the still living shark, to help current, scientific research on recent mass die-off of this important marine fish.
The leopard shark is a common sight along the California coastal shelf and within our own local waters. At this time of year, it is typical to find larger than normal numbers of these fish congregating in and around the San Francisco Bay, to breed and give birth. Lately, these particular sharks have been in the news because of large numbers reportedly washing ashore sick, dying or dead.
Just recently, The Marine Mammal Center's Stranding Department received a call from a concerned citizen in Tiburon, describing a large, 10 to 12 foot leopard shark struggling near shore in the town's small marina. The Center's chief veterinary scientist, Dr. Bill Van Bonn, decided they had a rare free moment from caring for the Center's primary pinniped patients, and responded to the call. (Prior to joining the Center, Dr. Van Bonn was senior director for animal care, at Shedd Aquarium, Chicago.) Once the team arrived, the shark had already disappeared back into the Bay.
Then, on Friday, June 10, 2011, the Center's Stranding Department received yet another leopard shark call, this time sighted near Ocean Beach, on the Peninsula. In addition, The California Department of Fish & Game had asked if the Center could lend support to their leopard shark mortality study. Again, Dr. Van Bonn was pleased to help by collecting blood samples from the still-living leopard shark. Working together with one of the Center's residents-in-training, Dr. Martha Delaney, whose specialty is part of the University of Illinois Zoo Pathology program; the veterinarians reached the struggling yet still-living shark, successfully collecting nearly 10 vials of blood. "Unfortunately, this shark was close to death when we arrived and expired moments after we completed our work," explained Dr. Van Bonn. "We were also asked to conduct some scientific studies using the Center's Laboratory and Necropsy Departments; so we collected the deceased shark and performed a post mortem dissection," added Dr. Van Bonn.
Of course, we all know the Center specializes in marine mammals, and last time anyone checked, sharks are not mammals -- though some species do bare live young, just like mammals! However, the health of all marine creatures is key to the Center's work, and crucial to marine mammals and fish -- and humans, alike! The Center's Necropsy Department will share comprehensive post mortem results, including; internal measurements, observational data, and multiple tissue samples. These data will be crucial to the California Department of Fish and Game's task of solving this mysterious die-off on one particular species.
Note: Sharks are an important indicator species of our ocean's health. Some scientists believe that Bay's reduced salinity, from heavy spring rains, may be a factor. This and other hypotheses are still under investigation.
# # #
Friday, June 10, 2011
Meet "Wildoctric!" ~ An Unusual Name for an Unusual Patient! Elephant Seal Weaner Gets Groundbreaking Surgery, Smooth Recovery & Happy Release!
Photos by Jackie Dolan & Stan Jensen
Wildoctric surveys her new ocean home at Drakes Bay. This female, elephant seal weaner successfully survived an amazing story of rescue, groundbreaking surgery, careful rehabilitation, and a heartwarming release! Pictured here on Chimney Rock Beach, in the Point Reyes National Seashore, she's ready to go home!
It's a picture perfect day for Wildoctric's beginning steps toward freedom. Here, she cautiously touches sand for the first time, after many weeks of treatment and recovery.
Swimming safely in her pool enclosure, just hours after her final surgery, Wildoctric experiences a smooth recovery. What a face -- is that gratitude in her eyes?!
Marjorie Boor, keeps a close eye on the first-ever sliding hiatal hernia surgery to be performed on an elephant seal! High-definition cameras and monitors guide and record this ground-breaking procedure.
Pictured in the Center's hospital, a laparoscopic gastropexy is performed on this young Northern Elephant Seal ~ a common procedure to humans, as well!
Meet "Wildoctric" --an unusual name for an unusual patient, and one who needed help for a serious, hidden medical condition. This young female Northern Elephant Seal was rescued in the middle of the Center's rescue range, on a beach in Monterey State Park, April 30, 2011. Wildoctric was extremely lethargic and suffering from severe malnutrition, weighing only 40 kilograms -- pups this age should weigh at least 75 kilograms! The Center's rescue team responded quickly to a concerned citizen's call, rescued and delivered her to the waiting veterinary team, back in Sausalito.
During her admit-exam, the veterinary staff noticed that the young elephant seal already had a green flipper tag - indicating that she had been counted only a few weeks prior at the Ano Nuevo State Reserve. Within days, the team realized that this wayward pelagic pup was suffering from something internal. "She was a poor eater, managing only a couple of whole fish, so we prescribed supplemental tube-feeding, but still, she couldn't keep her food down, vomiting frequently," explained Dr. Rebecca Greene, one of the Center's associate veterinarians. "Despite our best efforts, she was not able to consistently gain and keep weight-on," added Dr. Greene. Therefore, after nearly three weeks of erratic gains and losses, Dr. Bill Van Bonn, the Center's chief veterinary scientist, decided it was time for some more in-depth investigations.
"To my knowledge, this was the first time that anyone attempted these procedures on an elephant seal," explained Dr. Van Bonn. The team started by investigated the internal organs using a series of basic radio graphs, or x-rays, which revealed some abdominal abnormalities. A few days later, the team conducted more detailed contrast-radio graphs and a subsequent endoscopy revealed the underlying problem -- a sliding hiatal hernia! (These procedures are commonly performed on humans, where a tiny camera, mounted at the end of a long thin tube, is inserted through the mouth, down the esophagus, and into the stomach.)
"There was something inside the abdominal region that was herniating, or moving, into the chest cavity -- and that "something" was her stomach!" explained Dr. Van Bonn. "So, we decided to perform a laparoscopic gastropexy to keep the stomach from moving into the thoracic cavity," added Dr. Van Bonn. On June 9, 2011, Wildoctric began a incredibly smooth recovery. Just hours after surgery, she accepted small amounts of prescribed whole fish, and was ready for more. Each day, her ration was carefully monitored and gradually adjusted-up. Originally, Wildoctric was admitted to the hospital at only 41 kilograms. But in just 20 days after surgery, she had gained nearly 20 kilograms and was released with other rehabilitated patients, at a healthy 61.5 kilograms! "Watching this marine mammal swimming and diving, and successfully retrieving whole fish on her own was a joy," said Deb Wickham, the Center's veterinary science operations manager. "Her treatment, rehabilitation and release outcome is what we all work for, each and every day!" added Wickham.
A miracle of science, and much tender loving care... Good luck Wildoctric, we're all so proud of you!
# # #
Tuesday, June 7, 2011
Layla takes a rest moments after her release on Chimney Rock Beach. Seen here sniffing and chewing everything new in her surroundings, Layla rediscovers her love of playing with seaweed! (Photo-article: Dina Warren, volunteer, The Marine Mammal Center)
It was a day of joy, as five rehabilitated elephant seal patients were released back into their ocean home, on a calm, overcast morning, Friday, June 3, 2011, at Chimney Rock Beach, in the Point Reyes National Seashore. Layla, a young female pup, and four of her weaner pen-mates, Lindsey, Milo, Chantal, and Roark; were all released together, in an area where over 500 wild elephant seals were spotted, resting mostly on the inaccessible sandy beaches surrounding Drakes Bay.
These young elephant seals were rescued from various beaches throughout San Luis Obispo, San Francisco and Monterey counties. Each young seal was found alone, suffering from severe malnutrition. Once safely at the Center, it took them about 2 to 3 months to become fully rehabilitated, and strong enough to fend for themselves in the wild. "These pups came to us in pretty bad shape," said Ben Calvert, one of the Center's stranding and animal crew volunteers. "After being assessed by the veterinary staff, all five had to be rehydrated, using either tube-fed electrolytes or subcutaneous fluids. Then, after a period of tub-feeding using fish milkshakes, the young pinnipeds went through the different stages of fish school," added Calvert.
These young marine mammals, some less than 30 days old, did not have success discovering what and how to eat on their own. Therefore, they needed to "attend" what the Center calls, "fish school." First, the baby elephant seals have to be patiently, hand-fed whole fish. This is commonly done while they are out of the water -- on the floor of their enclosure. Next they have to learn how to accept fish, while in the water -- often in the shallow end of the pool. The final stage of "fish school" is when the seals are able to free-feed -- swimming and diving for fish that are tossed into their pools. Folks at the Center commonly call this, "graduating from fish school." It costs a dollar-a pound to feed these guys! But, it's worth every dime, especially when you get to see them so happy to be back in their ocean home - ready to meet their wild brothers and sisters! Good luck, gang!
Saturday, May 7, 2011
Thursday, April 14, 2011
This adorable sea lion pup stole the heart of everyone who saw her at The Marine Mammal Center. She was only a few months old when she arrived at the Center. Rescued on October 6, 2010, from Bird Rock Beach in Monterey County, this little gal weighed only 26 pounds when she got here.
At the Center, veterinarians found that the petite pup was suffering from pneumonia and malnutrition. Because Blackwolf was so young when she was rescued and unable to learn to eat fish on her own, the Center veterinarian staff knew she couldn’t survive a return to the wild. Therefore Center staff began to “target train” Blackwolf to prepare her for a new home in a zoo.
Animal care volunteer Val helped prepare Blackwolf for her new home:
For those of us who volunteer in animal care, we are trained to hide our profiles behind boards, keep our voices low, never feed by hand, avoid eye contact with the animals, etc.That’s because most of our patients return to the wild.
However, the rules for Blackwolf were quite different since she could not be released to the wild. She had to learn to interact with people in order to allow them to safely care for her. I was asked to continue to reinforce her positive learning process, and after undergoing a bit of training myself, I was handed a bucket of fish, and into the pen I went. The first time she targeted for me, she ran at me full speed and left no doubt that she had performed her task correctly - her idea of "target" was a quite forceful smack of her nose against my fist!
I quickly rewarded her with a fish and verbal praise. Then I began walking away from her while speaking the second command "Follow." Immediately, I had a very small sea lion walking slightly behind me, with her head bumping my leg as we took a short jaunt around the pool. Time for another fish reward and lots of praise! Then I pointed to the pool and spoke the third command "Water" and in she went. Then back out she came ready for her reward. We repeated these actions until her quota of fish was gone, and after a bit more praise, I left the pen.
On April 7, 2010, Black Wolf was sent to live with another sea lion at Miller Park Zoo in Illinois, where she will be well cared for and provide an opportunity to educate the public about marine mammals. We'll keep you posted here as we hear more about her life in her new home.
Monday, December 13, 2010
Scaffolding is erected along the animal care building in preparation for installation of new solar panels. Photo: The Marine Mammal Center
If you're visiting The Marine Mammal Center during the next few weeks (and we hope you do!) you may see some new additions to the facility. Today. a construction crew began putting up scaffolding along the Center's animal care building in preparation to install 80 new photovoltaic panels. Thanks to a generous donation by PG&E, the additional 28 kW cells will help us shave thousands of dollars off of our electrical bill! Work is expected to be completed in January. Thank you PG&E!
Thursday, December 2, 2010
Lucky Day recuperating at The Marine Mammal Center.
This blog posting is by volunteer Dina Warren. Dina volunteers on the Saturday night crew.
Lucky Day has returned to The Marine Mammal Center shortly after her release back to the ocean. Originally admitted to The Marine Mammal Center on October 1, 2010, Lucky Day, a juvenile California sea lion, was first rescued at Seacliff State Beach, below the visitor center in Aptos, Santa Cruz. When Lucky Day was found, she was in poor shape, exhibiting depressed behavior, inactivity, and suffering from a heavy discharge from her closed, right eye. Subsequently, she was diagnosed with pneumonia and sacrocystis (a parasitic protozoa that compromises muscle tissue) by the Center’s veterinarian team.
After about a month of care, Lucky Day’s health improved. Her eye healed, and she was eating well. She had even gained enough weight so that veterinarians felt comfortable she would survive in the wild on her own. She was released back into her ocean home at Point Reyes on November 8, 2010.
However, just one week later, Lucky Day was stranded again. This time she was found lying in the middle of Potbelly Beach Road, near Capitola's New Brighton State Beach. She was lethargic, and looking very down. In fact, she was emaciated with most of her ribs showing from malnutrition. Lucky Day had lost over 40 pounds during her time at sea swimming all the way from Point Reyes to Capitola.
Presently, Lucky Day is waiting for a lucky day of her own, and hopefully will make it home before the New Year. Her poor body condition, malnutrition, and possible muscle and heart inflammation will keep her safely recuperating at The Marine Mammal Center for now.
Friday, November 5, 2010
Construction is underway on the new pools at The Marine Mammal Center.
Lots of folks have been wondering about all of the construction activity around The Marine Mammal Center lately. After the grand opening last year, some people are understandably surprised to see more building going on around here.
The background is that the Center has always planned for this phase to be built. These pools are particularly special as they are very large, in-ground pools. In fact, the pools are 12'x16'x5' deep and can hold an incredible 7,500 gallons each!
The Center needs these three pools for a variety of reasons. The configuration of these pools is ideal to house large numbers of elephant seal pups. They can also be used for isolation and are USDA compliant for housing animals long-term or for research projects.
Although there will be heavy equipment, noise and dust around the Center, we are still open every day as usual. Indeed, the Center is open year-round except for Thanksgiving Day, Christmas, and New Year's Day. The construction areas are restricted for safety, but the work does not interfere with visiting the Center. All of the fascinating exhibits and viewing areas are still open, just as before. If anything, it's an added bonus to catch the pool construction in action before it's finished!
Want to help with the building of future pools? Join our Fund-A-Need program and help the Center build a quarantine pen for its patients. It is essential that the Center be able to isolate and diagnose new patients before introducing them to the general patient population.