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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, August 6, 2008


Left, leptospirosis-affected sea lions gather around a water dish.
Right, "Beijing", a California sea lion with a leptospirosis infection, gulps down water.

Recently, California sea lions have started coming in with leptospirosis, a bacterial infection that has periodic outbreaks in that population. The bacteria is contagious, and spreads among groups. It can also be spread to other animals, which is one of the reasons that the Center's staff and visitors are never permitted to bring their pets to our animal care facilities, and volunteers and vets take care to step in antibacterial baths and clean the pens and themselves well after treating animals affected by leptospirosis.

One of leptospirosis' effects is that the bacteria damages the kidneys. This causes the animal to become dehydrated and thirsty as the kidneys fail. In general, healthy sea lions do not drink water, as they receive all the moisture they need from their food. So when sea lions come in to our facility and display behaviors like drinking water, they are suspected of having leptospirosis and the volunteers are then asked to collect a urine sample for testing. If caught in time, leptospirosis is treatable. However, once the kidneys become too damaged, it is irreversible and the animal will die.

Our veterinary staff and volunteers are working hard to try to save these sick sea lions. Some are very ill, and may not survive. However, whenever one is successfully treated and released back to the wild, the hard work is worth the sense of satisfaction that accomplishment brings. Stay tuned, as this topic may not go away. Because of leptospirosis' infectious nature, that unfortunately means we may see more cases in the coming period.

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