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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.