Every year, on average, we help approximately 600 distressed marine mammals, rescuing and rehabilitating them at our hospital facilities in the Marin Headlands.
Once a rescued marine mammal has been brought to our center, we provide the animal with medical attention and care during its recuperation period. We operate much like a human or domestic animal hospital in treating our patients. However, marine mammals have unique adaptations to life at sea that present challenges which require special medical care.
For example, pinnipeds have a thick blubber layer that rejects many suture materials, and surgery is complicated due to their dive reflex, which causes their heart rate to slow, their breathing to stop, and their blood to pool centrally during anesthesia.
Husbandry is the core of our rehabilitation efforts – this includes nutrition, handling techniques, hygiene and sanitation, housing, disease prevention, and stress reduction. Volunteers help us with many aspects of our rehabilitation and release efforts, including much of the day-to-day care of the animals.
We constantly refine our protocols in order to provide the highest level of care possible for the animals while they receive medical attention and recuperate.
Maintaining the animals' wildness and reducing the stress they experience is an integral part of our work. The animals are not used to interacting with humans, and we want to be able to eventually return them to their habitat with their instincts and abilities intact.
Our patients include include pinnipeds like California sea lions, northern elephant seals and harbor seals, as well as sea otters, whales, dolphins, porpoises, and even sea turtles. We may have dozens of patients on site at any given time in various stages of treatment or rehabilitation.
The most common reasons these animals have been rescued and are under our care are:
- Malnutrition as a result of an ever-changing shift in the ocean food chain, becoming separated from mom during weaning, or illness
- Illnesses such as toxic algae poisoning, bacterial infections and even skin disease
- Entanglements in ocean trash
- Boat strikes
- Shark bites
Release back to the wild is our ultimate goal for every patient and affirmation of hours of service and hard work by volunteers and staff. To be released, animals must pass final examinations, and must be able to successfully forage for fish. All patients receive a flipper tag; some that are released may receive satellite or radio tags so their progress can be tracked if they are re-sighted.
The overall survival rate of animals admitted to the Center is just over 50% -- a positive statistic considering we rescue and admit very sick animals.
Watch a video to see a few of our patients return to their ocean home, including California sea lions, northern fur seals, and harbor seals.