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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, January 28, 2009

Domoic Acid Interview

The most recent episode of Public Radio International's program Living On Earth features The Marine Mammal Center's Dr. Frances Gulland and explores the issue of domoic acid toxicity, a condition that the Center sees with increasing regularity in California sea lions and other species. Listen to the episode below, or download the mp3 from the Living On Earth website.

Copyright © 2009 Living on Earth and World Media Foundation. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Social Climber

Above, Gnort scales an 8 foot fence and does a swan dive into a neighbor's pool. Photos: Ingrid Overgard

The 2008 Animal of the Year is Gnort, a California sea lion. In case there was any doubt about sea lions' agility, Gnort provides photographic proof of their abilities when he decides to climb over a chain-link fence to join the sea lion in the adjacent pen. Gnort, an adult male California sea lion, stranded in Moss Landing in October 2008. Tipping the scales at 320 lbs., Gnort was treated for acute domoic acid toxicity. After having seizures upon arrival, he was given a course of phenobarbital. Once the medication had worn off, Gnort indicated he was feeling better by climbing over our 8 foot chain link fence and doing a swan dive into his neighboring sea lion’s pool. After a brief 2 week stay at the Center, Gnort was successfully released back into the wild.

Long Time No See

It's always nice when we spot a former patient doing well out in the wild population after release. Recently, a sub-adult male California sea lion was sighted out at Fisherman's Wharf in Monterey. The sea lion had an old entanglement scar and an orange tag on his left front flipper, which indicated he was once treated by The Marine Mammal Center. So the Center's Stranding Department took some photos and did a little research back in the office to determine his history.

"Seinet" was originally reported to the Center on 11/28/06 down in Monterey with a black rubber band cutting into his neck. The rescue team made numerous attempts to rescue him and was finally successful in capturing this animal on 2/2/07. He was disentangled, tagged, and immediately released again. Clearly, he's been doing OK ever since!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Arctic Goes Goldfishing

Arctic, the endangered Steller sea lion that the Center has raised from a pup after maternal separation, has been growing, and her caretakers have been working hard to wean her and get her to catch and eat fish, a skill she will need when she is released to the wild.

Arctic is in a quarantined area of the hospital to minimize her contact with humans. This is necessary because as an intelligent animal, she is susceptible to habituation. It is important that she stays away from humans when she is released and sees them as a threat. So far, the very strict rules in place that shield Arctic from the humans that care for her have worked. She was fed a bottle through the fence as a pup to minimize her contact with humans, was socialized with other sea lions, and clearly does not like the few designated people who have to enter the pen to feed her or perform necessary cleaning and/or medical exams. This is a good thing, and will increase her chances for successful reintegration into the wild population.

In their process of getting Arctic to learn to track and catch fish, her caretakers recently released live goldfish into her pool. In this rare video glimpse of her (shot with a zoom lens), you can see Arctic charging Veterinary Intern Nicola, who dumps the goldfish in her pool. While not too fun for Nicola, it's a behavior veterinarians like to see, as it shows she's not too fond of humans in her pen. Arctic then tracks the little fish through her pool and vocalizes loudly at the end, possibly in protest of having to contend with catching fish rather than having her bottle. This vocalization is an excellent example of what a Steller sea lion sounds like. P.S. If you look closely, you can see a goldfish in Arctic's mouth when she vocalizes! Proof she can catch the quick little fish!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Into the Wild

Above, KP2 takes a nap on a beach after his release. Photo: NMFS, NOAA Permit #932-1489-09

We hope the holiday season treated you well. We know The Marine Mammal Center had a nice treat for the new year. KP2, the endangered Hawaiian monk seal that was raised from a neonate in a collaboration between The Marine Mammal Center and NOAA agencies and released last month, has been monitored closely since his reintroduction into the wild to see how he fares in his natural environment, and reports from NOAA during the holiday season indicate that KP2 is faring well so far.

KP2 seems to be adjusting to his newfound freedom, and is exploring further from shore. His satellite tag and sightings confirm he has been heading west, and he has begun socializing with other seals, a great sign! On December 26 KP2 was seen sleeping on a beach. Later that afternoon he entered the water together with another young seal, born in August. Researchers observed the two young seals interacting, mock fighting & mouthing, and rolling around together in the water. It's exactly the kind of behavior that KP2's caretakers want to see, as the goal is to have him identify with and integrate into the Hawaiian monk seal population.

They also want KP2 to see human beings as a threat to stay away from to shield him from human interaction. To that end, on December 27, when KP2 was spotted close to some people on a beach, the group was informed of KP2's delicate status, and they moved to a different area. He was then frightened off with loud noises and returned to the water. It is hoped that these actions will help keep KP2 apprehensive of human beings, just as a healthy seal that had always lived in the wild would be.

So far, KP2 appears to be adjusting very well. He is catching fish and has even strayed out of the receiver range for his satellite tag a few times, which means he is likely getting more comfortable with the area and venturing further from his release site. The initial intensive two week monitoring period has now ended; however, NOAA researchers will continue to check his condition periodically and relay updates. Let's hope his progress continues! As a highly endangered species, KP2's successful reintegration and survival would be a real accomplishment! You can read more and help with the effort to save Hawaiian monk seals here.