The Marine Mammal Center is the world’s largest hospital for sick, injured, or abandoned sea mammals. It oversees 600 miles of California’s coastline and treats 600-800 animals each year! Right now they are gearing up for their busiest time of the year: spring and summer.
Adam introduced us to the stories of five marine mammals that were brought to the Center in distress. Their stories illustrate some of the injuries and illnesses these animals have to endure—distress often caused by their human neighbors.
Jayzee, an elephant seal pup, was found severely underweight (only 75 pounds, when he should have weighed 300!). The Center brought him in and tried feeding him, but he couldn’t keep any food down. After three days, the problem was discovered: he coughed up a balloon he had eaten, probably mistaking it for a jellyfish. Jayzee still needed two months of rehabilitation at the Center before he could finally be released back into his habitat.
Pecan Pie, an adult sea lion, was found disoriented and having seizures due to domoic acid toxicosis, the result of a harmful algae bloom. What causes these algae blooms? Good question. Studies are being done, but wine culture fertilizers are suspected. Fortunately, Pecan Pie was able to be released after three months’ treatment, as the condition was caught at an early stage.
Eyebright, a one-year-old sea lion, was a gunshot victim who required five surgeries and two months of rehabilitation. Though blinded in one eye, Eyebright was released once they were sure he was able to swim well and hunt again.
Superstition was an adult female sea lion found on a beach acting oddly lethargic and unable to use her back flippers. She was found to have cancer, and she did not survive. The Marine Mammal Center is studying why this type of cancer is so common among sea lions on the California coast. They suspect that a virus, a genetic predisposition, and a type of pollution specific to the area are all causes.
Lastly, we learned about Clodagh, one of the “disgustingly cute” (Adam’s words) harbor seals. She was only five days old when she was found separated from her mother and underweight. She was brought into the Center, where staff taught her how to eat fish by having her attend “fish school.” Within a couple of months she was doing well and was released back to her home.
Though the problems these animals suffer are serious and sometimes very sad, it’s heartwarming to learn about the dedicated human helpers at the Marine Mammal Center. They’re doing research and caring for the animals at a state-of-the-art facility until the animals are well enough to release back into the wild.
But what can each of us do?
Simple things, like not releasing balloons into the air, using fewer plastic items, and cutting six-pack rings and plastic packing straps so animals don’t become entangled in or strangled by them.
Cute as these animals are, don’t approach them. They are often skittish, and they may be frightened into abandoning their babies if they are approached by humans or dogs. Instead, if you see an animal in distress, stay at least 50 feet away, keep others away, and call the Center at 415.289.SEAL (7325).
Think about the effects of fertilizers, pesticides, and other toxins we allow to be released into the ocean. Marine mammals, being at the top of the oceanic food chain, receive powerful, concentrated doses of pollutants. The result? Needless suffering and death.
Each of us can also help spread the word. Help others remember that we share the ocean right outside our door; we are connected to our neighbors in the sea. They’re part of our environment, and we need to help protect them. Also, if you’re interested in volunteering, the Marine Mammal Center is actively recruiting docents for both the main facility and for Pier 39. If you can help, go online (marinemammalcenter.org) or give them a call at the above number.
Science Bytes was honored to host Adam and learn more about our marine mammal neighbors, about what we can do to help them, and about the work going on at the Marine Mammal Center. Thank you, Adam!
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