Last week I had the amazing opportunity to spend three days with the Monterey Bay Operations satellite of The Marine Mammal Center. My main goal for this trip was to gain more field experience rescuing California sea lions, harbor seals and elephant seals. After consulting with The Center Stranding and Rescue staff, I scheduled my visit for the beginning of April because this is the time of year when elephant and harbor seals start to wean. Inevitably some individuals have trouble making the transition to living on their own. When this happens they often end up stranding on beaches in the central coast area of California.
While April is not the usual time of year for a large number of California sea lions to be in need of evaluation, this year increased numbers have been affected by domoic acid toxicity. Domoic acid is produced by an algae. When the populations of algae become high, the toxin is concentrated by fish commonly eaten by sea lions. Affected sea lions show neurological signs that can range from lethargy to seizures. To learn more about domoic acid toxicity, please visit the following link: http://www.marinemammalcenter.org/science/top-research-projects/domoic-acid-toxicity.html
So the first week of April was an excellent time to join forces with the The Marine Mammal Center staff and volunteers who respond to calls from concerned members of the public who report finding distressed seals and sea lions. After carefully obtaining contact information for the caller and location & condition data about the animal, the Center response teams assure the caller that they will check on the animal. Often the most important advice given to the caller is to stay at least 300 feet away from the animal, so as to not stress it or in the case of harbor seals to prevent a mother from returning to its pup. The good news is that in most cases, the animal is not in trouble. Well-intentioned people often hear typical vocalizations or observe normal eye & nose secretions and confuse them with disease. However, there is no way to tell the difference from a phone call, so Center teams are deployed to evaluate the situation. When there is a problem, the rescue teams professionally develop a plan to recover the animal. Both animal and personnel safety is of paramount importance. To learn more please visit the following link: http://www.marinemammalcenter.org/Get-Involved/awareness-campaigns/leave-seals-be.html
I have enclosed a slide show below to depict some of the responses that I was privileged to take part in. I want to thank the folks at The Marine Mammal Center for their hospitality, camaraderie and the wonderful learning experience. It was also wonderful to know that we were able to step in and help several seals and sea lions to have a second chance at having a successful and wild life.