It is very unusual for The Marine Mammal Center to have Guadalupe fur seals (Arctocephalus townsendi) as patients, and only a few dozen have been rescued in the nearly 40-year history of the Center. This species, which is listed as threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, is a pelagic marine mammal, which means that it spends most of its life at sea, rarely hauling out on mainland beaches.
The vast majority of Guadalupe fur seals rescued by the Center have been pups, usually brought in for maternal separation or malnutrition. Sterling Archer was an especially unusual case because she was an adult. She was rescued in February 2014, on Del Monte Beach near Monterey, where she hauled out appearing sick and lethargic.
Sterling Archer was diagnosed with domoic acid toxicity, a neurotoxin that is caused by harmful algae blooms. A domoic acid outbreak took place in early 2014 and it was severe enough that the California Department of Public Health issued warnings about the human consumption of shellfish, anchovies, and sardines. The Center saw a large number of patients with domoic acid toxicity during this time, most of them California sea lions.
After a few weeks of treatment at the Center, Sterling Archer was deemed fit to return to the ocean and prepared for release. She was released at Rodeo Beach on March 28, in conjunction with BioBlitz festivities that were taking place that day. BioBlitz is an annual survey of biodiversity sponsored by National Geographic, which chooses a different national park each year. In 2014, the park chosen was the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, a park in the middle of a vast urban area that is known as a major biodiversity hotspot.
Scientists and researchers from around the world teamed up with volunteers to “find and identify as many species of plants, animals, microbes, fungi, and other organisms as possible.” The aim was to conduct an inventory of the natural world that can be observed in a 24-hour period. Among the luminaries involved was noted marine biologist and National Geographic explorer-in-residence Dr. Sylvia Earle, who was given the honor of opening the carrier to release Sterling Archer.
Before the release, Sterling Archer had a tracking device attached to her back to help researchers learn more about this little understood species. Maps from the device were transmitted back to the Center on a regular basis, showing her moving far out into the Pacific Ocean.
Learn more about Guadalupe fur seals.
Find out more about Domoic Acid Toxicity.
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