No hike, but some elephant seal fun!

Well, the boyfriend came down with a nasty virus so unfortunately, there was no hike this weekend. It was even my birthday weekend! But he is feeling somewhat better so hopefully next Sunday we can do another Sunday Funday hike.

I feel like haven’t written much about The Marine Mammal Center lately. That’s because things have somewhat slowed down. It is nice to have time to sit down and take a coffee and lunch break for a change. The ellies are slowly but surely learning to eat and compete with each other and each week more are released. Soon we will hit a peak again but this time with California sea lions. Each year, most baby sea lion pups are born in June, and since we have just entered june, it is only a matter of time before they take over. That isn’t to say that we haven’t had plenty of sea lions already, but we soon shall have plenty more.

This past Thursday, BBC had a camera crew at the center filming a documentary. Myself and two others from my crew were “volunteered” by our crew-mates to wear microphones and be filmed working with the elephant seals. Specifically, they wanted us wearing the microphones to catch some of the vocalizations of the ellies while we did fish school, which involves tying a string around the tail of a fish and dragging it around the water in the hopes that it will trigger predatory instincts in the pups. One of the others with me wore a GoPro camera on her chest to catch the volunteers perspective during fish school and hand feeding. Then, they used a pole with a GoPro on it to get the ellie’s perspective during fish school and hand feeding. They also took some other video clip angles while we were feeding a pen, including some underwater shots. I think it goes without saying that the pups were very interested in the camera and kept trying to bite at it! They’re so curious, I love it. I don’t know when that will air but I will post it or link to it as soon as it does. That way you all can get a glimpse at some of what we do there!

In the mean time, here is a picture of one of the elephant seal pups being curious as always!

One of the curious elephant seal pups I volunteer with!

One of the curious elephant seal pups I volunteer with!


12 Hour Days

Holy. Crap. Over 170 animals at the center now. We tube fed more elephant seals than I can remember today. This post covers this week and last week. Sorry I didn’t post last week. I had a full 12 hour day with no lunch last week and didn’t get home until late. This week was only an 11.5 hour day and I did get lunch.

This week is also apparently Volunteer Appreciation Week so they had ice cream sundays for us. I think we all deserve it. We are definitely in the peak of busy season. Every day we get more and more animals. Sure, we also have releases often, but more are coming in than going out. It’s always nice feeding then pens with free-feeders. Takes no time at all. The challenge comes when you have ones that aren’t supposed to be fed (aka “NPOs”) and you need to figure out if they’re are just NPO because of an exam or because of a surgery. If it’s a surgery, then you have to go through separating that one so the others can eat. It can be tough when dealing with feisty sea lions.

Last week, I was bitten on the leg by an ellie. Didn’t break skin. But definitely left a bit of a bruise. You get outnumbered when you’re in a pen trying to keep them away from a tube feeder but they’re coming from all directions. In zombie movies, I always wonder why people can’t just outrun the zombies. They’re slow and move so awkwardly. When you’re surrounded by hungry ellies flopping across the pen floor towards you honking and barking, you understand.

I get to the center at 7am. There are a few long time volunteers that get there at 3am! THREE! Can you believe that?! And then they stay until 6:30pm or 7:00pm like the rest of us. I live an hour and 15 minutes from the center. There’s no way I could get there that early.

Anyway, I’ll try to post again next week. ‘Til then!

Hefty Sea Lions!

I know I’m a bit late with this, I had a very busy day yesterday between volunteering at The Marine Mammal Center all day and going to a concert last night. There are now over 100 animals at the center! It’s crazy! I missed last week because I had some family in town and then I go in yesterday to find the patient population has over doubled.

First thing when I arrived yesterday was to help stuff meds into fish being prepared for the patients. Then everyone would sign out a pen and go feed. I signed out a pen that seemed simple enough- a free feeding California sea lion. When I arrived at the enclosure, I was met by a humongous adult sea lion. Most patients are babies, but the occasional adult will become injured or ill and need our help. The 2kgs of fish in the bucket should have tipped me off that he’d be a big one. I tossed a fish over the fence into the pool and he flopped in, displacing tons of water over the edge. I think it goes without saying that I quickly went in, tossed the rest of his breakfast in, and darted out. I wouldn’t want a big hungry sea lion coming out of the pool at me while I’m holding his food. There are at least two other very large adults as well.

Later in the day, at the 2 o’clock feed, I selected an enclosure that I soon found out had an even larger sea lion. We was sleeping in the sun outside the pool when I brought his food. I tried making some noise to wake him up, and I through a couple of fish over into his pool. He just looked over at me and then laid his head back down. I wasn’t about to go in there by myself. I recruited another person to come help and he splashed him with a little water and through a couple more fish in and he finally went in the pool and gobbled them up, not without a loud barky growl first, though.

The elephant seals were adorable and kind of dumb as always. There are way more now. I was able to get one little tyke to start taking fish in the water; he had previously only been hand feeding on the pool deck. It’s crazy to see how some of them learn faster than others to eat fish in the pool and find them under water while others can’t even get the concept of swallowing down!

I tube fed and restrained a couple. That never get’s old! We also had some ellies to weigh. That is somewhat easier than weighing sea lions. Sea lions need to be put in a carrier on a cart to be taken to the scale. Ellies are so big and dopey that you just hoist them into a wheelbarrow and push them to the scale like it’s a big stroller. They aren’t agile enough to get out.

Can’t wait to see what next week brings! We’re only getting busier and busier. I love it!

‘Blackfish’ stirring up more trouble for Sea World

Tillikum Image Source:

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Exciting news this past week! A bill has been introduced by Richard Bloom, the Assemblyman for California’s 50th district, and the chair of the Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Natural Resources and Transportation, that would ban the use of orcas for entertainment and stunt shows like those that draw in the crowds at SeaWorld, and allow them only to keep killer whales in captivity for research, rescue, and rehabilitation.

They would also no longer be permitted to breed their orcas. Tillikum, the orca who is the main focus of the documentary, ‘Blackfish’, has sired 21 calves. One might wonder why Sea World thought it was a good idea to breed the whale that has lead to three human deaths. I don’t want to go on a rant, but these are large intelligent animals and a small pool isn’t enough room for one whale, they thought it was a good idea to bring 21 more into a captive world?

This bill would apply to everyone, not just Sea World, although Sea World San Diego is currently the only place in California showing captive orcas. Anyway, eventually, they would be required to free their orcas into the wild or an open water sea pen where they can have more room to swim and socialize than in their tiny concrete pools.

I say this is good news and a step in the right direction for our large marine friends. If you haven’t seen ‘Blackfish’ yet, I highly recommend you do. It is available for instant streaming on Netflix and I’m sure you can watch it countless other places as well.

P.S. Despite what Sea World would tell you, dorsal fin collapse is NOT normal.

So many noisy elephant seals!

We are now up to around 27 animals this season at The Marine Mammal Center. There are several fur seals, several elephant seals, and more sea lions. The elephant seals are very vocal. They let you know they’re there. One has a big open wound near his lower back that looks like something took a big bite out of him. Some of the ellies are eating on their own and some are not.

In addition to cleaning out a bunch of pens, I helped make more elephant seal formula. Then I got to help with tube feeding one of the new little fur seals still at the main hospital building. I put the syringe of formula on the end of the tube another volunteer had placed down the esophagus and into the stomach and pushed the formula through. I also helped later in the day doing the same thing with two elephant seals. I will start doing this and eventually work my way up to restraining and placing the tube.

Thursday day crew is assigned two pens to deep clean each week and two pens to weigh. So we had to weigh four baby California sea lions. They were quite a handful but we managed to get them into a big carrier and onto the scale. I then helped deep clean their pen while we left them blocked off in the isle way.

Later, I fed a fur seal by myself. This just involved throwing some fish into her pool and stepping out of the pen. I then went into a sea lion pen with another volunteer to feed two sea lions. One ate but the other only tore up and spit out the fish so we ended up needing to tube feed him and the vet staff did a physical exam. I just mostly watched for that.

I learned how to do fish school today. We tied some fish to a string and waved it around in the elephant seals’ faces and in the water trying to entice them. They weren’t having it. We also tried holding it up to them without string so they could sniff it. It can some times take weeks to teach them that they are supposed to eat fish so in the mean time they are tube fed.

There was one larger fur seal would wouldn’t eat. They ended up bringing in a live fish for it and, what do you know, it ate it! After that, it ate the regular frozen fish everyone else gets. It just took the stimulation of chasing a wild fish to get it’s instincts and appetite going.

All-in-all it was a good day at the center. My longest yet. I was there until 3:15p. I know the days will get longer and longer as there are more and more animals. There was still another 4:00p feeding but I left to try and avoid some traffic. I live an hour away from the center, after all.

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Tube feeding an elephant seal (image found on TMMC website)
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Things are starting to pick up at The Marine Mammal Center!

I’ve now volunteered at TMMC about a month and things are finally starting to happen. This week, there were several new animals including two ellies (elephant seals) and two Guadalupe fur seals. That brings the total to about 15 I think, the rest being California sea lions. That’s not including the harbor seals that I don’t work with. I think they have three now.

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Northern Elephant Seal Pups
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Today, for the first time, I was able to watch the more experienced volunteers tube feed one of the elephant seals. Very young ellies don’t know how to eat fish really so it takes a while for them to grasp the concept. One of the ellies was able to eat on her own but the other was not. I think there is one boy and one girl. Anyway, the ones that don’t eat get tube fed ESF, or elephant seal formula. I learned how to make that today. It’s basically a blend of salmon oil, ground fish, milk matrix, and water. Then, once they are tube fed, they go through fish school which basically involves waving fish in their face and trying to convince them that they want to eat it. I didn’t get to do that yet today. I’ve been told it can sometimes take a long time for them to learn and they’ll be tube fed for weeks or months.

Guadalupe Fur Seal Pup with Mom Image Source:

Guadalupe Fur Seal Pup and Mom
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The Guadalupe fur seals are both adult females. Fur seals (there are Northern and Guadalupe that we get at the center) tend to be more aggressive and feisty, especially adults. Apparently, these two were pretty lethargic and dehydrated when they came in but now they have more pep in their step. They had been tube feeding them because they wouldn’t eat fish but that got too challenging for the volunteers so today the vet staff was going to try. They decided to discontinue that. Both seals were getting to stressed and strongly resisting. The goal is to get the animals strong and well, and if they are strong enough to resist the tube feeding that much, it’s obviously not medically sound to continue stressing them out. They still won’t eat fish but maybe that’s because they’re feeling better and don’t want to be locked up and eating dead fish. They just got some injections and subcutaneous fluids and that was that. We left them alone.

At noon, there was a powerpoint/phone seminar thing with someone from NOAA explaining the process of how non-releasable animals are placed in permanent homes like zoos, aquariums, and the navy. That was informative and interesting.

I’m excited to see what next week brings! By the time the pupping season is well underway, I’m sure my days will be getting longer and longer and more exhausting. But those seals and sea lions are just so darn cute that it’s worth it.

Adorable Panther Kitten Rescued

It was announced last week that a 1 week old panther kitten was found alone, frail, and dying in Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge in Collier County back in January. A group of researchers from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Conservancy of Southwest Florida found the kitten very lethargic and weighing just 1 pound. They knew this little one wouldn’t survive without intervention.

“We want to give any panther kitten the best opportunity to survive in the wild, but clearly this kitten was in poor condition and almost certainly would have died without intervention.” – Dr. Mark Cunningham, FWC news release

The kitten was taken to Naples for triage care at Animal Specialty Hospital of Florida, and then, once strong enough, moved to the Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa for longer term care and rehabilitation. Unfortunately, because the kitten was just 1 week old when found, he will be completely raised by humans and will not be releasable. He won’t have the benefit of his mother teaching him to hunt and survive. In the wild, a young panther would stay with its mother for a year and a half to two years. This means that the kitten will never gain the skills to survive in the wild. There are only around 80 to 100 Florida panthers remaining, making them one of the most endangered mammals.

Check out this video of his progress. Such a cutey!