Welcome to our blog!

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 27, 2008

"Station 61" Update 8/27/08

Above, "Station 61" shows signs of failing health under observation at The Marine Mammal Center

This morning, "Station 61" (see previous entry) had severe seizures that confirmed a diagnosis of chronic domoic acid toxicity. Due to the irreversible brain damage that characterizes this condition, he was humanely euthanized. Sea lions that are afflicted with chronic effects of domoic acid poisoning suffer repeating seizures, are unable to navigate or catch fish in the wild, and can starve or drown in the ocean. Therefore, we end their suffering humanely, a decision that is very difficult for veterinarians but ultimately spares the animal a great deal of pain. "Station 61", like other sea lions we have rescued from unusual locations, displayed evidence of damage to his hippocampus, an area of the brain that controls navigation, among other things. The fact that he was found 2 miles inland in a canal indicates that his ability to navigate and his orientation were impaired. In these cases, chronic domoic acid toxicity is always suspected. The animal is then observed to monitor seizures, and tests such as MRIs and EEGs may be performed in order to confirm or rule out the condition. In "Station 61's" case, as with many sea lions rescued under similar circumstances, unfortunately chronic domoic acid toxicity was confirmed. Read more about the condition on our website.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Firemen Don't Just Rescue Cats Stuck In Trees...

Photos: Sue Pemberton, The Marine Mammal Center

The Marine Mammal Center went out on an exciting rescue yesterday in South San Francisco. Our Stranding Department received a call that a California sea lion was stuck in a muddy canal about 2 miles inland, and sent out a rescue crew, including Lincoln Shaw and Sue Pemberton, two volunteers who have previous experience rescuing sea lions from unusual locations. When they arrived, they found a sub-adult male sea lion stuck at the bottom of a concrete canal without easy access. Just as they had determined that a rescue attempt would be unsafe and impossible, firemen from Fire Station 61 located across the street arrived and said they would like to help. Using an aerial ladder and a Stokes Litter attached to rigging, the Fire Department helped The Marine Mammal Center's team hoist the animal, which had been herded into a carrier, out of the canal and onto solid ground. The Center named the animal "Station 61" in honor of the firemen who helped. Now that's teamwork!

The animal was transported back to our hospital in Sausalito, where it was weighed (235 lbs.), and will be treated by veterinarians. However, the prognosis is very guarded for this animal. He was gasping and lethargic when he was rescued, and continues to have labored breathing. Also, whenever older sea lions are found in unusual locations exhibiting signs of agitation, it usually means there is something seriously wrong with their health. We will keep you posted on "Station 61's" condition. Thanks to the great firemen who helped us with what must be a very unusual rescue for them!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

An "Examined" Volunteer

With around 900 volunteers, The Marine Mammal Center has one of the most extensive volunteer bases for a non-profit in the country. Our volunteers make this organization possible. From animal care volunteers to education docents, every one of our volunteers is a vital and treasured member of our operations. One of these volunteers, Timothy Vogel, was just profiled in the San Francisco Examiner. Check it out here!

The New MaGREEN Mammal Center!

Left, the support beams for the shade structures/solar panels are installed.
Right, a pool with completed shade structure beams.

The Marine Mammal Center has been undergoing a complete rebuild of our facilities, and we look forward to moving into our state-of-the-art hospital, education, and research facility, as well as our new administrative buildings in June 2009. It's amazing how quickly the construction is now happening, and every day, the new Center takes shape more and more. The pools for the animals have now been built, and last week, we snapped some pictures of the installation of support beams for the shade structures over the pens (see above). These shade structures will each have solar panels laid down on top of them to do double duty, and should generate the equivalent power that would be consumed by approximately three residential homes. It's one example of the way that the new Center will be as eco-friendly as possible. Some (but not all!) of our other "green" design elements include:

  • The use of natural ventilation for cooling interior spaces.
  • Windows and skylights to maximize natural interior lighting, reducing power consumption
  • Use of pervious concrete ,allowing storm water to seep through the concrete into the ground below, eliminating discharge directly into the ocean.
  • Modern life support systems for treating pen and pool water, and the use of backwash recovery systems to significantly limit discharge to sanitary sewer.
  • On site recycling during demolition (separation of wood, metal, concrete, etc.)
  • Water efficient landscaping with native plantings requiring no irrigation.
  • Concrete with a 15% content of fly ash that is recovered from gases created by coal-fired electric power generation, which is usually dumped in landfills.
  • Rough carpentry with 50% of wood used in project is certified by the Forrest Stewardship Council (FSC-certified).
  • Use of chemical-free materials or materials with reduced chemical preservatives and treatments wherever possible.
  • And much more!

Friday, August 8, 2008

Representing Marine Mammals

Rep. Woolsey and her delegation join Center staff for a photo at the entrance of the future facility.

On Thursday, August 7, The Marine Mammal Center was honored to host a delegation from Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey’s office. Congresswoman Woolsey and her staff, who represent California’s 6th District, which incorporates Marin and Sonoma counties, were treated to a tour of our animal care facility. As the Congressional representative for this area, it was a wonderful opportunity to be able to show her our new facility construction as well as the importance of our organization in the community. The Center is very grateful for the continuing support of Representative Woolsey and her office! See photos from the tour here.

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.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Harbor Porpoises Washing up on California Beaches

There has been quite a bit of media attention around the high number of dead harbor porpoises The Marine Mammal Center has picked up off of beaches in the past few months. Each year, there are a number of harbor porpoises found dead on beaches during this period. Researchers aren't exactly sure why this might be, but there are different hypotheses, such as the possibility of domoic acid poisoning which is caused by a toxic algae that is consumed by fish, and then passed on to marine mammals through that fish. It is known that California sea lions that are rescued by the Center can have permanent brain damage and seizures as a result of the toxin. Whether or not some of the harbor porpoises picked up recently were afflicted by the same thing is unknown. Other conditions that are being looked at include unidentified lesions and infections. The Center has sent out samples from necropsies to the lab, and preliminary pathology reports may take several months to be sent back. Until then, the Center will continue to investigate whether or not there are any common links between the deaths.

CSL Gettysburg

Sadly, our resident adult male California sea lion, Gettysburg, had to be euthanized this weekend. Our director of veterinary science, Dr. Frances Gulland, e-mailed the news to staff and volunteers. She tells us that "despite antibiotic treatment, he never bore weight on his left front flipper, and the antibiotics did not result in any improvement in weight bearing, although the swelling decreased.Thus, we anesthetized him Friday morning to get a good X-ray of his entire left flipper.These X-rays revealed an osteoarthritis of his elbow – infection of the joint, with dissolving bone and damaged ligaments. Sadly the only effective treatment for this would be amputation above the joint, which would not be an option for a male sea lion’s front flipper, so we humanely euthanized him while he was under anesthesia."

The post mortem exam revealed that Gettysburg had numerous other wounds on his body, which indicates that he likely sustained his flipper injury while fighting with other male sea lions during the June-July breeding season. It's a shame that this beautiful animal had to be euthanized, but ultimately, this saved him from any more suffering. Many volunteers and veterinary staff worked hard to try to rehabilitate him. His discomfort was eased and he was provided a humane response to a condition which likely would have resulted in a slow and painful death in the wild.