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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/

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Paddle the Brave Pup ~ A Bittersweet Story That Deserves to be Told


Once stabilized and after he regained his strength, Paddle began to swim energetically within his Harbor Hospital water enclosure.

Paddle had just begun "fish school" and was learning how to accept small, whole fish that were hand-fed to him, on his pen-floor.


It took a village... Volunteer Harbor Crew supervisor, Stan Jensen, lended a hand to fellow volunteers, Jeop van Belkom, newly arrived from the Netherlands; and Kimberly Swan, a two year veteran, originally from New Zealand.


Article & Photos: Dina N. Warren, Communications and Harbor Crew volunteer.
The story of Paddle, the Harbor Seal Pup, was one of the most amazing and dramatic patient stories the Center has ever shared... However, this bittersweet saga of rescue and rehabilitation also comes with a heartbreaking end -- nevertheless, Paddle's story has to be told...


Paddle's rescue took place over the course of three days, with a carefully synchronized team of staff and volunteers working tirelessly, in a heroic effort to save this tiny, late season pinniped. The story began on May 31st, with local Standing volunteer and naturalist, Sarah Grimes, who was leading one of her tour-groups up the Big River Estuary, near Fort Bragg.

While describing the local sights, Sarah and her fellow Fort Brag Operations volunteer, Ben Schleifer, also with the Department of Fish and Game, spotted the tiny pinniped -- lethargic, emaciated and shaking. "He was vocal, but distressed and all alone on the riverbank. I was very concerned because it was quite late in the Northern California Harbor pupping season, and he was exceptionally small to be without his mother," explained Grimes. The next day, June 1st, Sarah decided to paddle up river again, to further assess the pup's condition -- but he was nowhere in sight.

Three days later, on June 2nd, the Center's Stranding Department in Sausalito, received a concerned citizen's call describing the very same pup! The Stranding Department quickly contacted Sarah and gave her permission to attempt rescue. Generously encouraged by her tour-operator to use their pontoon boat, Sarah paddled twice as far, four miles up the south side of Big River. "I was losing all hope when I came upon the most incredible sight!" explained Grimes. "There was "Paddle" still alone and very distressed -- but it looked like he was up in a tree!?" exclaimed Grimes. In fact, Paddle had climbed up a fallen tree branch,and was hanging on for dear life, dangling about 3 feet over the water!

Sarah hopped out of her outrigger and rescued the pup, wrapping him in a towel and safely securing him in the boat's front cargo hold. She furiously paddled back down to the river's mouth, placed the pup in a waiting transport carrier, and immediately drove 1.5 hours to Cloverdale. There, Paddle was transferred to waiting Stranding volunteers, Phil and Jean Warren. (Phil's also serves as a Board member.) After another hour's drive south, Paddle was transferred again, to Erin Brodie, one of the Center's Stranding coordinators, and her husband, Dan. Together, they drove Paddle from Novato to the Center's Harbor Seal Hospital, in Sausalito. That night, guided by the Center's veterinary team, Erin worked tirelessly to save the critical pup!

"Paddle was in pretty poor condition, suffering from severe dehydration, malnutrition and maternal separation. He went into hypoglycemic shock and was experiencing multiple seizures," explained Dr. Rebecca Greene, one of the Center's associate veterinarians. At barely 28 inches long and only 12.2 pounds, Paddle was considerably younger than most of the other Harbor seal patients. Together, Dr, Greene and Donna Why, a volunteer Harbor Crew supervisor, worked to save and stabilize Paddle, using a dextrose fluid IV and an anti-seizure medication, diazepam. Paddle's admit-exam also revealed congested upper airways and a slight heart murmur, so the Vet team ordered radiographs and echo cardiograms. Paddle was then prescribed antibiotics, doxycycline and clavamox, to rule out any pneumonia, and the veterinary team continued to monitor Paddle's heart murmur, which sometimes can resolve itself, as pups grow and develop.

Paddle was responding well to a series of tube-feedings, starting with baby formula and later with blended fish milkshakes consisting of salmon oil, herring and water. "He was very eager and energetic, once he was feeling better," explained Stan Jensen, another volunteer Harbor Crew supervisor. "We were all hoping and working for the best recovery and outcome." said Stan Jensen.

Then, something very disappointing happened with Paddle's story of survival. Little Paddle died over night, on July 1st, a month into his rehabilitation. "Unfortunately, Paddle succumbed to the extent of malnutrition and related challenges he'd faced," explained Dr. Jeff Boehm, the Center's executive director. Once Paddle had been stabilized, he began to respond to his treatment plan, and Harbor Crew volunteers and vet staff had become guardedly optimistic. "Though it's not good news... we stand to learn from Paddle's passing... in our post-mortem analysis, (which) we'll be sure to share," added Dr. Boehm.

It's always a risk to share and sometimes even to celebrate, our patients' amazing survival stories. But, as Dr. Boehm reminded us, "It is important to tell the complete story, which reflects the complexity and unpredictability of the Center's work." It is true, that dear little Paddle's passing will yield more scientific knowledge for our current and future pinniped patients...

We are all greatly saddened by his passing. But, we were privileged to have cared for this special pinniped patient, and hoped and worked for his recovery and release back into the wild. We're sorry he didn't make it -- our brave little Paddle!

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2 comments:

DEV RAJ said...

i like

Kimberley said...

Great story even though it does have a sad ending. RIP Paddle!