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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/

Thursday, July 31, 2008

And in This Corner, Weighing in at 500 pounds...

The Marine Mammal Center has a very impressive patient at the moment. Gettysburg, a California sea lion, practically fills his pen, towering over the sea lions in adjoining pens. He's an approximately 8 ft. adult male who weighs in at over 500 pounds, at last (and only) check. Getting an aggressive animal of that size onto a scale is no easy feat! Adult male California sea lions develop a bump on their heads after the age of five which is known as a sagittal crest. Gettysburg has a sagittal crest (see photo above).

Gettysburg was rescued from Oceano Dunes in San Luis Obispo with a large abscess on his shoulder. He was unable to put weight on his flipper at that time, so it was clear he would need to be treated to survive. A whole team of people helped in his rescue and transport to the Sausalito hospital, where his abscess was drained and he is now receiving antibiotics to help heal the wound. In the mean time, he does not seem to like captivity, which is just as it should be, as we like to keep the animals as wild as possible if and when we are able to release them back to their ocean habitat. In the case of Gettysburg, a massive and potentially dangerous wild marine mammal, this means volunteers and veterinary staff must use all their training and be extremely alert and on guard when treating him. When inside his pen, volunteers must constantly avoid Gettysburg's roaring charges at them, often blocking him with a herding board to avoid getting bitten, while simultaneously throwing fish into his pool or using the hose to spray clean the floor of his pen. It's clear that caring for animals like Gettysburg is a labor of love for our brave and skilled volunteers!

It is hoped that Gettysburg will recover from his injury and be healthy enough to release back to the wild. In the mean time, this demanding patient eats 20 pounds of fish a day, about 15 pounds more than the juveniles in the pens next to him, and makes sure everyone knows he's the king of the pen. No easy guest, in other words!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Seahawk at the Zoo!

Sometimes, animals rehabilitated at the Center are not releasable back to the wild, but are otherwise healthy animals. These include animals that have some sort of permanent injury that would prohibit them from being able to feed out in the ocean, or animals that re-strand and for some reason or another, cannot take care of themselves in the wild. When this happens, the Center does its best to find the animal a permanent home at a facility like an aquarium or a zoo.

Such was the case with “Seahawk”, a California sea lion that restranded multiple times a few years ago and found a home at the Pittsburgh Zoo. From time to time, Seahawk’s keepers send the Center and all the volunteers here who cared for Seahawk, an update on his development. The most recent e-mail from them let us know that Seahawk is now over 200 pounds! He’s sharing his pen with two females, “Maggie” and “Zooey”, and keepers speculate that he might breed with these animals.

While it’s not the optimal outcome for animals that are rehabilitated here, it’s fortunate that there are facilities willing to care for animals that otherwise would not survive, and the animals placed in these facilities will go on to educate people about marine mammals.

See photos of Seahawk and his penmates above!

Friday, July 25, 2008

It Takes a Village to Raise a Steller!

Arctic suckles formula from a bottle through the fencing (photo taken with a zoom lens through a small hole in the tarp).

On June 30, The Marine Mammal Center rescued a days-old Steller sea lion that was separated from its mother on Año Nuevo Island. The tiny pup would not have survived on its own, so it was brought back to the Center's hospital to begin a long process of caring for it until it is self-sufficient and old enough to be released to the wild. The pup has been nicknamed "Arctic" and is a very special patient for several reasons.

The Steller sea lion population has dropped by 80% in the last 30 years. In 1997, the western stock in Alaska was listed as endangered and the eastern stock of the Continental United States and Canada was listed as threatened. Because Arctic is a female and therefore could grow to reproduce and add to the population, her successful rehabilitation is an important goal. Her caretakers therefore want to do everything they can to help the fragile pup grow strong and survive in the wild.

Arctic's caretakers have instituted some very strict rules for her care that will hopefully minimize her habituation to humans. We want her to remain as wild as possible and to have a natural flight response when approached by humans after her release, so contact with people is kept to a bare minimum for Arctic. While this is already a policy with all the animals at The Marine Mammal Center, it's doubly important for Arctic. As a very young pup, she has had minimal exposure to other sea lions and animals in the wild. She has not had the learning experiences to teach her to be afraid of humans and predators, so the risk that she won't learn a normal flight response is higher than with older sea lions that have already learned to avoid potential dangers in the wild, including humans.

To combat this risk, Arctic is being kept in a pen in a secured area of the facility. She is sharing her pen with several other sea lions to socialize her, and there are tarps blocking her view to the outside. Only a very restricted number of people are allowed near the pen, and only when she needs to be medically checked or fed. These necessary activities happen from behind a board or through the fence so that she does not identify her human caretakers. A closed-circuit video camera mounted on the pen can allow volunteers and veterinary staff to monitor her remotely in the fish kitchen. Hopefully, these steps will successfully prevent her from becoming too habituated to human contact and she will be as wild as possible when she is released.

Arctic has been suckling a very rich milk formula voraciously from a bottle and has started gaining weight. She's still very fragile, but her caretakers are hopeful that she will continue to progress and will eventually be successfully introduced to the wild. Everybody from our animal care volunteers to staff to visitors has been incredibly supportive and careful about helping to preserve this very important protective environment as Arctic is rehabilitated. It takes a collective effort, and people's cooperation has been instrumental as we move forward in this effort to save a specimen of a threatened species.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Marine Mammal Center in Sunday's Parade Magazine!

Please look for The Marine Mammal Center in this Sunday’s (July 27) Parade Magazine, which is read by 71 million people and is carried in newspapers across the country, including the San Francisco Chronicle, The Los Angeles Times, The Sacramento Bee, the San Luis Obispo Tribune, and The Santa Rosa Press Democrat, among others in California. So look for a copy in a newspaper near you. The article will be in “The Intelligence Report” section and is called “Can Our Oceans Survive?" As many of you know, we rely almost entirely on volunteers and private donations to keep our organization operating, so introducing the public to our name and work is vital. Parade is the most widely circulated magazine in the country, so this should be great exposure for the Center!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Construction Update

Our new facility is really beginning to take shape, and we are excited for the public to see our state-of-the-art Center when it opens in 2009. The construction has moved along at a clip, and there are many new developments.

The Animal Care building work is now focused on the installation of cabinetry and countertops, lab and kitchen equipment, as well as lighting and plumbing fixtures. Painting is underway and the spaces are nearing their final appearance.

The construction of the Veterinary Science building continues to progress rapidly. The framing of the exterior walls is complete as is the interior framing on the second floor. This week’s work has focused on the installation of the exterior wall paneling in preparation for the waterproofing membrane which is slated for this coming week. Inside the building the contractor is working on rough installation of the electrical and plumbing systems as well as door frames and HVAC ductwork.

The locker room and shop building roofing was completed this week. Upcoming work on these buildings will include plumbing rough-in work on the locker room building as well as concrete floors inside both buildings.

Work on the Education building this month has been focused on the installation of lighting fixtures and interior wiring, plumbing connections in the kitchen area, and preparation for the final finishing of the floors throughout the building.

The biggest milestone in the past month has been the completion of the walkways in the pen and pools area. Epoxy coating of the pens and pools also got underway this month and will stretch at least through the next several weeks.

Construction of the ozone generating plant got underway in the last two weeks. All of the equipment has been placed and the piping for distribution of high pressure air for pneumatic controls and for the distribution of ozone gas has begun. Additionally, we have been working with the LSS contractor and the electricians to begin the installation of the digital instrumentation for the automation and control of the filtration systems.

Thursday, July 17, 2008


Welcome to The NEW Marine Mammal Center Blog!