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The Marine Mammal Center is a nonprofit veterinary hospital, research, and educational center dedicated to the rescue and rehabilitation of ill and injured marine mammals and the study of their health. Since 1975, the Center has rescued and treated more than 16,500 marine mammals and has accumulated a body of knowledge about marine mammal and ocean health. Through public education about marine mammals, the Center hopes to foster ocean stewardship and conservation. For more information, visit http://www.marinemammalcenter.org/

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Home for the Holidays

Top left: Administrative staff help volunteers Lincoln and Don roll the carrier across the beach. Top right: The door to the carrier is opened! Bottom left: Administrative staff help herd Saps toward the water. Bottom right: Saps runs out into the ocean, heading home for the holidays!

Watch video of this special Christmas Eve release assisted by members of the administrative staff! Video: Alexandra Sangmeister

Yesterday, the Center rescued a California sea lion that stranded near the Oakland International Airport. "Saps", a 210 lb. subadult male, was brought back to the Center's hospital to be checked out by the vet staff. The animal appeared alert and did not seem to be injured, and he did not seem pleased with his confinement, so after getting a checkup and a flipper tag, veterinarians decided the best course of action would be to release him as soon as possible rather than expose him to further stress at the hospital.

The Center's Stranding Department called down to the Administrative office to let us know that Saps would be released right here at Rodeo Beach within the hour. So the staff that was working today as the Center winds down for the Christmas holiday got an unexpected Christmas gift to remind us of why we do what we all do, working for this non-profit organization. A team of hardworking elves from the administrative departments jumped at this chance to connect with the ultimate purpose of our jobs in a way we don't often have the opportunity to do. We bundled up against the rain and headed out onto the blustery beach, and happily bade Saps farewell as volunteers opened his carrier. Saps stepped out carefully, took a few looks around, and headed decisively out into the stormy sea, porpoising through the waves like a champ. It was truly a serendipitous holiday treat. As we all look forward to our own holidays, it was deeply gratifying to see Saps going "home" for the holidays as well.

The experience was especially timely as The Marine Mammal Center staff moves on to a new home and packs up the offices that have hosted decades of dedicated people that helped to grow this organization into the world-class institution it has become. In January, when the administrative staff come back from our holidays, we will be returning to a spectacular new state-of-the-art space that will maximize our ability to do this important work of rescuing, rehabilitating, and researching marine mammals, and inspiring generations of people to protect these animals and the marine environment through education. We could not have achieved this milestone without our generous donors and volunteers over the years. And when the other parts of the facility are completed and we finally open our doors to the public in June, we hope you will join us to celebrate.

So it is with a profound gratitude that we thank our volunteers, supporters, and staff as we look to this next chapter in the Center's existence. As we head into our new home and "Saps" heads into his ocean home, we wish you a very happy holiday season, wherever you call home.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Grounded at the Airport

"Saps" rests in a pen at the Center's hospital after his rescue, with access to a heating pad and pool.

In the holiday travel crunch, it's not just people stuck at airports. The Center rescued a subadult male California sea lion today from a marsh next to the Oakland International Airport. The animal was behind a fence and not easily accessible, so with the help of the Oakland Port Authority and the USDA, the Center's trained volunteer rescue crew were able to reach the 210 lb. animal, net him, and load him into a carrier. He was transferred to the Center's Sausalito hospital, where he is in his pen resting and stabilizing after the stress of rescue, awaiting examination by veterinarians.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Two of a Kind

Top Left: Volunteer Stan Jensen transfers Crimson. Top Right: Lil' Bit and Crimson nose each other in greeting.
Lower Left: Lil' Bit examines squid under Crimson's watch. Lower Right: Lil' Bit learns to eat squid.

The Marine Mammal Center has been fairly quiet recently, with a minimal patient load and skeleton crew at the hospital. That meant that one young California sea lion pup, "Lil' Bit", was all alone in rehabilitation. So it was serendipitous when another young sea lion, "Crimson", arrived on site to provide Lil' Bit with some positive socialization with a member of the same species. After being admitted, Crimson was transferred to Lil' Bit's pen, where the two touched noses and examined one another before going into the pool. Perhaps that was the nudge Lil' Bit needed, because after meeting Crimson, the pup ate squid and fish for the first time since arriving at the Center. Hopefully Lil' Bit's new penmate will keep this intelligent and social young animal identified with other sea lions rather than human caretakers.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Mahalo, KP2!!!!

Left, KP2 is outfitted with a satellite tag before his release. Right, a Marine Mammal Center volunteer monitors KP2 prior to release. Photos courtesy NOAA.

The Center has some very exciting news to share. KP2, an endangered male Hawaiian monk seal pup hand-reared from birth, has been released! He was flown by a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter on December 15th to a protected beach on the island of Molokai, a sheltered area for monk seals, and set free there. You may recall that the abandoned seal was rescued in Kauai on May 2nd. For the past eight months, a dedicated team of trained people have been responsible for his care. The payoff for their hard work came during KP2's release as caretakers were happy to see KP2 enter the water without so much as a backward glance. He spent about 3 hours playing and foraging in tide pools before heading out to deeper water in a protected cove where he was seen diving, foraging, and eating for several hours. After the team lost a visual on him, the satellite tag he had been outfitted with got a reading on the 16th from an area near the release point.

It is deeply gratifying for the team of volunteers, veterinarians, and scientists from The Marine Mammal Center, NOAA Fisheries, and the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center that have worked hard to care for KP2 with the goal of returning him to the wild, where he can hopefully contribute to the population. The Hawaiian monk seal population has dwindled to only 1,100 and is declining at a rate of 4% a year, so the successful rehabilitation of even one animal is a tremendous achievement toward the conservation efforts of this species.

Read all about KP2’s journey from birth to release here. KP2 will be monitored via his satellite tag. We will keep you posted on any news!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Feeding Frenzy

Top left: A fur seal protests its pen mate's catch. Top right: Protecting its turf
Bottom left: Going for the steal...Bottom right: ...Denied! Photos: The Marine Mammal Center

Life in the animal kingdom is all about survival of the fittest, and that means that those who get the most food survive. The same thing goes for a northern fur seal, whether out in the ocean or here at The Marine Mammal Center, and feeding time for the 9 fur seals that are currently at our hospital can be outright chaos. Squabbles replete with teeth snapping and attempted fish hijacks are all par for the course as the race is on for which fur seal can get the most fish in the least amount of time. These fur seals, above, were captured on film yesterday as they battled it out over a fish.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Another Round of Sauvignon

Left,Veterinary Intern Nicola Pussini prepares to x-ray Sauvignon. Right, Sauvignon's x-ray. Photos: Gina Sanfilippo, Tuesday Day Crew volunteer.

Unfortunately, marine mammals that are released by the Center sometimes need to be rescued again at a later date. These animals are termed "restrands" by staff and volunteers. They will have a flipper tag identifying them as previous patients, and will already have a patient chart with information about their previous conditions and treatments.

One such animal is "Sauvignon", a California sea lion that initially stranded in Pacifica and was released on November 26 at Fitzgerald Marine Reserve. At that time, she had been eating fish and appeared healthy. However, four days after being released, on November 30, Sauvignon reappeared, this time in the parking lot of a Comcast building in San Leandro, sparking some media attention and a call to the Center, which sent out a team to rescue her.

She is now back at the Center's hospital, being cared for by veterinary staff and volunteers. Sauvignon's restranding is not good news for her prognosis. While she has not yet had a definitive diagnosis, there are several warning signs that suggest that she may be suffering from the chronic effects of domoic acid toxicity, a condition which is incurable. First, her appearance in an urban parking lot, which is an unusual habitat for a California sea lion, suggests that her navigation faculties are not functioning properly. This can be caused by damage to the hippocampus, an area of the brain which manages navigation, among other things. Chronic effects of domoic acid cause this part of the brain to atrophy. Police officers on the scene reported that she may have had seizures, another common symptom of domoic acid toxicity.

An x-ray was done on Sauvignon because she will have an MRI tomorrow. An MRI machine is powered by magnets, and sea lions can sometimes have bullets lodged inside their bodies from run-ins with people, so the x-ray is used prior to an MRI to identify any bullets that might attract to the magnet and cause damage inside her body. In Sauvignon's case, the x-ray did not reveal any bullets inside of her. The MRI will allow veterinarians to look at her brain and see if her hippocampus is indeed atrophied. Depending on the results, she may also have an EEG to measure brain activity and determine if she may be having subclinical seizures, another symptom of chronic domoic acid poisoning. Only after they have seen the MRI and/or EEG results will veterinarians be able to determine if their hypothesis is correct and definitively diagnose Sauvignon.

UPDATE 12/04: Unfortunately, Sauvignon's MRI showed damage to the hippocampus, confirming a chronic domoic acid toxicity diagnosis. She had another seizure after her MRI, and the decision was made to humanely euthanize her to spare her from any additional suffering and the certain death she would have met in the wild.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Lights, Cameras, Action!

Top: Jim Oswald (TMMC), Meredith Vieira (co-host, Today Show), Dr. Frances Gulland (TMMC), Doug Hamilton (NOVA producer) on the set
Bottom: Today Show Studio at Rockefeller Center, Times Square, New York City

The Marine Mammal Center has recently received national media coverage about its work in rescuing and treating seals and sea lions, and studying the conditions that affect marine mammal health. You can watch the Center on NOVA’s Ocean Animal Emergency, the Today Show on NBC, Nightline on ABC, and on a recent Scientific American podcast. The public response to these news programs has been wonderful and we're very thankful to NOVA and so many other news outlets that help us raise our awareness with their audiences and hopefully to inspire action that benefits both marine mammals and the ocean.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Large Sea Lion Gets Ultrasound

The Center's Dr. Frances Gulland works on an adult California sea lion receiving an ultrasound

Yesterday, the Center admitted a very large patient to its hospital- a 478 lb. adult male California sea lion. The sheer size of an adult male California sea lion always causes a stir among volunteers and staff when one is admitted, and this case was no different. The animal, nicknamed "Dan Perry" had been rescued near Santa Cruz County's Seabright State Beach on November 17th, where it was found lying lethargic and displaying labored breathing. He was rescued by volunteers from the Center's Monterey Bay Operations and transferred to the Sausalito hospital the next day. Today, veterinarians performed an ultrasound on him to attempt to discover the root of his breathing problems, but did not see any overt cause. Unfortunately, Dan Perry died later in the day. A necropsy may give veterinarians more insight into the condition that may have caused his death.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Rare Loggerhead Turtle Rescue

Photos: Sue Pemberton

On Monday, November 10th, we admitted a 44.5 lb juvenille loggerhead sea turtle. It was found on Poplar Beach in Half Moon Bay & was rescued by TMMC volunteer Sue Pemberton. The turtle was in stable condition, had barnacles on its flippers & carapace and was fairly active. The turtle, nicknamed Shotgun because it rode "shotgun" in the rescue vehicle, was immediately transported to San Diego SeaWorld for rehabilitation. Volunteers Deborah Gabris, Jenni James and Susan Tripp received the turtle from Sue and helped transport it to Sea World.

The staff at SeaWorld report that Shotgun is currently weak, lethargic & being tube fed twice a day. They have removed the barnacles on the flippers, but left the one on its carapace. Preliminary diagnosis is that it is cold-stunned from being in the cooler waters along our coast. When placed in a warm water tank, the barnacle on the carapace opened up and inside was a shore crab that had hitched a ride!

This is a pretty unique stranding as loggerheads tend to be more of an off-shore species regularly in the waters around Japan. Researchers in Hawaii have occasionally tracked this species a few hundred Km off the central coast, but don’t recall other strandings in the region. This is the first loggerhead stranding we have had. While the Center responds mainly to pinnipeds and ceteceans, rescuers occassionally receive calls for stranded sea turtles. Shotgun is the first loggerhead turtle the Center has rescued in it's 33+ year history.

UPDATE 12-08-08: The center's Stranding Department received the following update from Shotgun's caretakers at Sea World: "The loggerhead has started eating on its own. It’s been receiving around 2lbs of food a day and will be increased to 3lbs this week. The turtle has gained 4lbs since we received it. The overall look of the turtle has improved significantly."

Monday, November 3, 2008

An Unfortunate End

A deceased elephant seal pup in a roadway in Newark . Photo: Gina Sanfilippo

A northern elephant seal pup that turned up in the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Newark, California last Thursday most likely met an unfortunate fate over the weekend.

The Marine Mammal Center responded to a wayward elephant seal pup when it came onto the roadway in Newark on Thursday and caused a highway to be shut down for several hours. However, the pup returned to the water and appeared to be swimming back to the bay before rescuers arrived, and was not spotted again.

On Saturday, the Center responded to another call about a seal in the same area that had wandered onto the road. It is unknown whether or not it was the same seal. However, shortly after the rescuers arrived, the animal died as they prepared to load it into a carrier. Police said the pup had most likely been struck by a vehicle which did not stop, possibly because the driver did not know they had hit it.

A necropsy back at the Center's hospital showed that the 175 lb. pup had significant hemorrhages of the deep muscle, a ruptured spleen, bruising in the lungs, and a fractured skull, among other things, which confirmed the likelihood that it had been hit by a car. It was an unfortunate end to multiple rescue attempts, but we are thankful to the volunteers who responded, as well as the Newark authorities who worked with us.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Sick sea lions along the coast

Clockwise: A California sea lion rest on a dock in San Francisco. Water Rescue Team members from The Marine Mammal Center use a special net to capture a sea lion. TMMC veterinarian Nicola Pussini collects blood samples from one sea lion before releasing it back to the water. A successful capture. NMFS Permit # 932-1489-10. Photos: The Marine Mammal Center
Larger numbers of California sea lions are stranding along the coast this year as a result of a bacterial infection called leptospirosis, and that's keeping staff and volunteers here very busy rescuing and administering treatment. The disease affects the kidneys of these animals, and in many cases causes death. Cases of leptospirosis appear every year, with outbreaks every 4-5 years. The Center is advancing its studies of the disease by collecting blood samples from juvenile sea lions in the wild. The data from these samples will help the Center understand more about the susceptibility of sea lions in the population during an epidemic and clarify the relationship between the stranded sea lions with leptospirosis seen here at the Center and those that are susceptible in the population. Collaborators in this new study include the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, University of California Los Angeles, University of California at Davis, Penn State University, and the National Animal Disease Center in Ames, Iowa.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Searching Fur a Cure

Left, a weak fur seal is tube fed. Right, Jasper Johns in his pen.

The Marine Mammal Center has started getting in northern fur seal patients lately, and if the condition of these malnourished specimens is any indication, we may see more arriving in the next period. Already, there are 5 fur seals currently being treated on site, 1 on his way, a few that have died in past weeks, and 1 very small and sick fur seal that unfortunately died today. "Jasper Johns" as he was nicknamed, was so weak and ill that he had to be tube fed. Unfortunately, his body could not hold out. He had a seizure this morning and died shortly thereafter.

The Center sees a spike in the number of fur seal patients it rescues in some years, but it's unknown exactly what causes this spike and what factors are affecting their health and/or normal feeding patterns in the wild.

In the mean time, veterinarians and volunteers have their hands full caring for this unique species. Fur seals are small and often appear to be harmless, but in fact, can be extremely aggressive and quick. With razor sharp teeth, they really keep their caretakers on their toes!

Fur seals are actually in the same family as sea lions, rather than seals, because they have external ear flaps and can walk on their hind flippers, so their name is somewhat of a misnomer. Learn more about northern fur seals here.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Puttin' on the Ritz

Left: Alexandra Gordon, Beth Inadomi and guitarist Freddy Clarke
Right: Beverly Spector and Mark Yudof
Photos: Drew Altizer

Left: Cinnie and Merrill Magowan
Right: Frances Gulland - Dir. Vet. Science TMMC, Jeff Boehm - Exec. Dir. TMMC
Photos: Drew Altizer

People are still talking about the fun they had at the Center's 12th Annual Gala this week. This year's theme, "A Celebration of Interdependence", could not have been more appropriate as we near completion of our new headquarters and continue to advance our knowledge about marine mammal health in hopes of helping future generations of pinnipeds. We held the gala in a new venue this year - the elegant Ritz Carlton hotel in San Francisco. It was an elegant evening with nearly 300 guests dressed in their finest enjoying full-bodied wines donated by Heitz Cellars and Spring Winery as well as a scrumptious three-course meal. We thank everyone who attended and helped with the event, as well as our gala sponsors. We raised approximately $160K thanks to your generosity!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Aww Shucks!

The 15th Annual McCormick & Kuleto's Shuck & Swallow Oyster Challenge at Ghiradelli Square was great fun this week. Bay Area radio personality Sterling James emceed the event while teams from local restaurants competed against each other to see who could "shuck & swallow" the most oysters in 10 minutes. The Marine Mammal Center was the beneficiary of the event, hosted by McCormick & Kuleto's Seafood Restaurant. The winning team (from Farallon Restaurant) shucked and gulped down 155 oysters - an amazing feat indeed! Afterwards, nearly 250 guests and supporters attended the oyster & wine pairing.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

At the Ready

Left, Lincoln Shaw makes the capture. Right, the rescue team pose after a successful rescue at Fort Mason. Photo: Marie DeStefanis, Tuesday Day Crew.

The Marine Mammal Center has some incredibly dedicated volunteers. On Tuesday, the animal care day crew was coming off of a long and tiring shift feeding and cleaning pens when the Stranding Department announced that there was an animal at Fort Mason in San Francisco that needed to be rescued. The crew jumped into action and instead of heading home as planned, headed over the Golden Gate Bridge and met another volunteer at the stranding site. At Fort Mason, the team was able to rescue the animal from the rocks. He has been nicknamed "Tuesday Day" after the team and is suspected of having leptospirosis.

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Center featured on KQED "Quest"

We were thrilled to take KQED radio reporter Amy Standen and intern Jennifer Skene on a tour of The Marine Mammal Center last week. They were introduced to a few of our sea lion patients, as well as staff and volunteers, and they learned that every animal we treat helps us learn more about marine mammal health and the ocean. Amy reports for the multimedia science series Quest which is about the people behind San Francisco Bay Area science and environmental issues and how their work is changing the way we live. You can listen to Amy's report on September 29 on KQED-FM in San Francisco at 6:33am and 8:33am. If you're sleeping in that morning or do not live in the Bay Area, not to fear. You can listen to the report and see KQED's accompanying slideshow right here!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Sticks and Stones

Above, Keevin emerges from his pool. Photo by Marie DeStefanis, volunteer and Tuesday Day Crew Supervisor.

On September 21, the Center rescued a male California sea lion from Moss Landing. The animal was estimated at around 5 years old due to his size, which is right around the age of maturity for male California sea lions. He was lethargic and successfully rescued. This large patient is now resting and under observation at our Sausalito hospital. He is suspected of having domoic acid poisoning, though he has not yet undergone testing to confirm this, and it is unknown whether or not he has any brain damage.

When "Keevin", as he has been nicknamed, was rescued, it was reported that members of the public had been throwing things at him. Unfortunately, this is not uncommon. We want to remind people that not only can this harm the animal, but it is also against the law under The Marine Mammal Protection Act. Harassment of marine mammals is taken very seriously and people are convicted and fined for it. If you see a stranded marine mammal, stay back and call our rescue line at 415-289-SEAL. And if you see members of the public harassing marine mammals, please contact us so appropriate action can be taken by the proper authorities if necessary.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Coastal Cleanup Day at Rodeo Beach

Despite the cool and foggy weather, an estimated 100 people from Marin and San Francisco Counties showed up Saturday to pick up and remove trash from Rodeo Beach in the Marin Headlands. The Marine Mammal Center has been leading this beach cleanup every year since 1996 as part of California Coastal Cleanup Day. Last year, nearly 300 pounds of trash were removed from the beach. Today, volunteers of all ages paired up in groups and filled their bags full of debris such as plastic wrappers, paper and cigarette butts. Two citizens found a 6-7 foot long heavy rubber mat that had washed ashore as well as a tire and rubber tubing. Others waded into Rodeo Lagoon with nets in hand to extract floating garbage.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Here Comes The Sun

It was with great excitement that the staff and volunteers watched the solar panels go up on the new facility's animal pens last week. These solar panels will not only provide a portion of the Center's energy needs when it opens next year, but they will also do double duty as shade structures for the marine mammal patients in our care. The dual-use application of the panels represents the kind of creative architecture and green design that can be found throughout the rebuild project.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Arctic Update

Above, Arctic protests coming out of her pool to be loaded into a crate and weighed on a large scale. *Photos taken from a distance with a zoom lens.

Arctic, the endangered Steller sea lion the Center has been caring for (see previous entry), has been making steady progress. So far, the strict protocol of minimal human contact implemented to reduce her chances of habituation to people seems to be working. We want her to remain as wild as possible so that she can eventually be released back into the the Steller sea lion population. Physically, she is also progressing, and at last week's weigh-in, she weighed 38 kilos (83 lbs). Because even our staff and volunteers have only gotten infrequent glimpses of Arctic, due to her seclusion from people, we took the opportunity to snap some photos to share with you when she was weighed, taken from a distance and with a zoom lens. If Arctic's progress continues, she may be reintegrated into the wild population and have pups of her own one day to increase this dwindling species.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008


The Marine Mammal Center was recently contacted by a journalist for information about entanglements and the issue of lost fishing gear's effect on marine mammals for an article about a newly funded UC Davis project to retrieve this marine debris. The project, called the California Lost Fishing Gear Recovery Program, will spend a $400,000 grant over the next two years to dive and retrieve lost fishing gear such as traps, hooks, line, and nets.

The effects of lost or abandoned fishing gear on marine mammals are seen regularly by the Center. The most common effects we see are entanglements in fishing nets and fish hooks lodged in a marine mammal's skin. One such animal is Thrasher, a California sea lion currently being treated at the Center. Thrasher was rescued with one fish hook through his lip and one in a flipper. During his rescue and transport yesterday, the first fish hook was dislodged. The hook on his flipper was removed with a pair of wire cutters today at our Sausalito headquarters. See photos above. Hopefully the UC Davis program will diminish the numbers of patients we see with these kinds of conditions.