Another Day at TMMC: Poking Butts

Well, I have finally been able to take the basic meds and advanced meds courses at The Marine Mammal Center meaning I am not able to do injections and subcutaneous fluids. I took the advanced meds class on Tuesday night so Thursday was my first day poking butts. I didn’t do any subQ fluids, I just helped with intramuscular injections, most of which were phenobarbital for the patients with seizures. It is definitely more nerve-wracking that doing IM injections on dogs and cats at work. The animals are larger, moving more, and have a pool to escape into. I’m certain I will get used to it and better at it with time, I just need practice. I’m just glad the rest of my crew is being patient with me.

Other than that it was a pretty normal day at the center. More and more animals being released each week. I think we should be getting some baby sea lions soon as this is now the time of year when they are being born. The days are definitely leaving us with more free time for now though. I like to keep busy but at the same time, this is giving us more opportunity to do fish school with the ellies that need it and more opportunity to do things at a leisurely pace. I took a couple of pictures of one of our sea lion patients this past week. It was so funny, he was trying to climb up the wall and look into the next pen. I don’t know if he had a friend over their, if he was just bored because his 2 pen mates were sleeping, or if he was just curious. Either way, it was funny to watch. You’ll notice that you can see his ribs, waist, and shoulder blades in the picture. He is malnourished and that is one of the reasons he is being treated here. We need to get him fat and healthy and back into the ocean. You should not be able to see any bone structure on one of these guys.

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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!

Record Numbers At The Marine Mammal Center

We were now at almost 200 animals at The Marine Mammal Center this year. Those are record numbers! We haven’t had this many animals at the center at one time in something like 40 years. There is an algal bloom in Monterey Bay that supposedly is contributing to the problem in addition to other conditions. The NBC Bay Area News was there on Thursday while I was volunteering filming a story about it. Here is a link to the story along with some video footage of some of my crew-mates and some of our cute little patients.

If you’re interested in donating to help us feed so many hungry mouths, check out TMMC donation page.

Hoppie, the wayward sealion pup who found himself 100 miles from the ocean wandering through an almond orchard. Image Source: www.facebook.com/themarinemammalcenter

Hoppie, the wayward sealion pup who found himself 100 miles from the ocean wandering through an almond orchard.
Image Source: www.facebook.com/themarinemammalcenter

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!

Fourty-four Animals!

We are up to 44 animals topside now at The Marine Mammal Center. Today was a looooonngggg day. I learned to restrain elephant seals for tube feeding. That basically involves straddling them on your knees and holding their flippers against their body with your knees. It kind of looks like you’re trying to ride them. I also learned to do the tubing itself. Basically, once they have their mouth open, you get the tube in the opening to their esophagus. Then it slides in pretty easy, then you blow in the tube and listen for stomach sounds to make sure you are in and aren’t in the lungs or something. When you hear that, you are good to attach the syringe.

While tubing, one of the little ellies spit up, which happens sometime, so I ended up with elephant seal vomit all over me. Now I know why it’s a good to have our slickers. Definitely need to launder them.

To sum up today, there were a lot of tube feedings, we had to weigh some baby sea lions, we had to do fish school for some ellies, and we had to move around a couple to different pens. There are two sea lions at the center now that have leptospirosis so even though we are always careful, we have to be extra careful about not cross contaminating.

It was a long day but it was definitely fun and every time I go I learn something new and love it even more!

I won’t be going next week so there will be no Marine Mammal Center post for two weeks.

Image Source: www.outsideonline.com

Image Source: www.outsideonline.com

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.

Image Source: www.marinemammalcenter.org

Tube feeding an elephant seal (image found on TMMC website)
Image Source: www.marinemammalcenter.org

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.

Image Source: www.eleseal.org

Northern Elephant Seal Pups
Image Source: www.eleseal.org

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: ngm.nationalgeographic.com

Guadalupe Fur Seal Pup and Mom
Image Source: ngm.nationalgeographic.com

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.