Marine Mammal Center
They come with shark bites, gun shot wounds, cancer and pneumonia. Some have collided with boats or became entangled with netting or plastic waste. Some are malnourished or sick from toxins and bacteria. And there are babies like Autumn, a female Northern fur seal found emaciated and starving on Moonstone Beach in Cambria.
On November 4th this year, Autumn arrived at the Marine Mammal Center, The state-of-the-art veterinary hospital and research center located in the Marin Headlands is the largest marine mammal facility of its kind in the world. Its mission: to treat injured or sick pinnipeds (fin-footed mammals), mainly harbor seals, sea lions and elephant seals found along 600 miles of California coast—from Mendocino County to San Luis Obispo County.
The public is welcome at the Center to watch staff and volunteers tend to their animal patients. Docents offer guided tours, teaching visitors how these mammals live, and about the problems that land them in this hospital.
Little Autumn was placed in the intensive care unit and fed by tube.
Some 40 staff and 800 volunteers care for animals here. About fifty five percent of patients respond to treatment and return to the ocean. Of those, the few unable to return to the wild are placed in a home, often a zoo.
On rare occasions, the Center treats a patient at the shore, as they did a huge, 700 lb. elephant seal found near San Simeon November 10th. A green packing strap wrapped tightly around his growing neck had created a deep wound.
Veterinary intern Dr. Michelle Barbieri says in TMMC’s blog, “It was quite the challenge to get the rescue net over this animal. After he was in it, he managed to escape through an opening and almost made his way back to the water.” (Often, animals flee a rescue attempt and as a result, die a slow, painful death from the entanglement.)
Dr. Barbieri and others were able to get the elephant seal back in the net, sedate him and cut away the packing strap. She cleansed the wound, and determine it would heal nicely. They put a flipper tag on him and took a blood sample. Soon, “Green Tie,” as they named him, awoke and returned to the water.
Animals that don’t survive provide information too. Necropsies (autopsies on animals) help in the treatment of marine mammals all over the world. In fact, the research here is helping to restore the endangered monk seal population. (A quick check of the center’s Web site shows the immense catalog of research done at this facility.)
As for success, TMMC has rescued more than 17,000 marine mammals since 1975, including 1,000 sea lions.
Baby seal Autumn seems to be coming along nicely. TMMC’s blog says, “she enjoys swimming in one of the main pools and can be seen grooming herself, a natural habit.” She spends chilly nights in a warm condo. Soon veterinarians will offer her small live fish to entice her to eat on her own.
A major goal of TMMC is to educate the public about marine mammals. Throughout the year they offer activities. December 10 TMCC hosts a special event, Home for the Holidays, that offers story reading, film, refreshments and more.
The Marine Mammal Center: 2000 Bunker Road, Fort Cronkhite, Sausalito, CA 94965, 415.289.7325