Thank you for signing up to our email!

Now, before you leave, do you want to make a seal's day?

Gordo - The Story of the Week!

Rescuers from The Marine Mammal Center embarked on a perilous hike down a rocky cliff to disentangle a 700 pound elephant seal!

July 9, 2013

Here, you can see how deep and wide the entanglement wound was around Gordo's mid section.
© The Marine Mammal Center

Here's an amazing story from our associate veterinarian, Dr. Rebecca Greene, that shows tenacity and skills really do pay off!

It took 2 days but we achieved our goal; we safely disentangled a 700 pound male elephant seal estimated to be between 2 and 3 years of age. It was a dramatic field rescue carried out on the rugged Big Sur coast beginning June 27. Every step of the way a new challenge presented itself.  

First, the obvious: Photos sent to us from the public showed a very thick, heavy rope was completely encircling this animal’s body. It looked like it had been there a long time, embedded very deeply, and we were concerned we’d have to do field surgery to remove it. 

Second, the animal had been repeatedly hauling out in the same remote area: a small beach on a very remote part of the Big Sur Coast, 4 ½ hours from the Center's Sausalito hospital, and 2 hours from Monterey Bay Operations. Once we got there, access was even more difficult than we had thought.  Even though some young locals had reportedly been shimmying down this cliff for fun, no tourists or regular folk would consider going down the side of this hill!  In fact, years ago, MBO volunteers had been on a call down to this very beach, and had to slide down on their butts.  Now, years after a huge storm washed out the road and caused a rock slide on the hill that leads to this beach, a crumbling rocky wall is all that’s left. Needless to say, this was quite a challenge.

The team from The Marine Mammal Center embark on a treacherous climb down the steep hill to the beach.
© The Marine Mammal Center

Day 1: we attempted the descent to the beach multiple times (with all of our equipment) to no avail – it was too dangerous without steady footing underneath.  But then the young men working and living around the tiny Big Sur town of Gorda came to our aid.  One of them literally ran down the crazy, steep crumbling path to the beach to scout for us!  When the animal was confirmed to be on the beach, the rest of them lead us down and even carried some of our gear and cumbersome herding boards!  Unfortunately, the day was getting short, and our patient was surrounded by 2,000 pound male elephant seals lazing and molting on the beach, not willing to move so we could have safe access.  Therefore, we decided to try again first thing in the morning, but had to coordinate with volunteers at MBO and stranding & veterinary units in Sausalito. 

However, another challenge presented itself: we had no cell phone service for miles (hours)!  The phones at the small café in town couldn’t even call out long distance.  So, we had to feed quarters into the pay phone. Yes you read correctly -- I can’t remember the last time I used one of those!  We headed back to MBO and spent the night there.

Day Two: we had an early rise after limited sleep, and drove back to Big Sur.  Scouting the beach from above we spotted our seal right away in the water!  Two young seals were play fighting next to him and didn’t look like they’d haul out anytime soon.  So we waited. And waited.

Gordo is seen hanging out with other big elephant seals, making rescue operations very tricky for the team.
© The Marine Mammal Center



Then I saw in my binoculars what we’d been hoping for, the animal scooting up the beach.  So, we hurried (carefully!) down the cliff, excited and anxious.  We carried rope down this time and secured some to a tree at the steepest section to help us on the way back up when we'd have all of our equipment.  However, by the time we got down, the animal had retreated back into the water. So, we waited, again…and waited some more.

Finally, the animal was back on the beach.  But so were the rest of the seals, starting to form a circle around him!  We’d come this far, so we couldn’t give up.  I loaded my pole syringe with anesthesia (Telazol), and I approached from the top of the beach.  The rest of the team (Dr. Lorraine Barbosa, Koret Foundation Veterinary Intern, Doug Ross, MBO volunteer and a SRO (Special Rescue Operations) lead, and Amy Saucke-Lacelle, Veterinary Student Extern) slowly approached with herding boards from the waterline, attempting to keep the animals up on the beach. We were able to isolate the animal somewhat to attempt an injection.

Gordo was entangled in this heavily braided rope.
© The Marine Mammal Center

I was able to successfully inject the medication, making him sleepy enough to do what we needed to do, but still awake and breathing well on his own. Doug deftly cut the rope, and Dr. Lorraine gave him a dose of Ceftiofur antibiotic for his wounds. We tagged him and even got a standard length.  His wounds were not as deep as we’d feared, but still quite impressive (circumferential around the entire body, deep in places but not embedded), but the tissue was mostly healthy and pink, trying to heal.

The animal woke up after some stimulation from the incoming tide, and we monitored him until he was recovered and heading up the beach to a safe spot before we left.

What a great effort by all involved and thankfully a happy ending.  I named him Gordo for the town he currently calls home (Gorda is the town, but with that nose he is definitely a Gordo!)

Thanks to all the volunteers who helped with the initial calls, planning, and rescue (and to MBO volunteer Tegwin Taylor for hiking down on the original scouting climb). And thanks to all of you for your efforts week in and week out.

-Dr. Rebecca Greene, Associate Veterinarian, The Marine Mammal Center

Mark Your Calendars!!  Dr. Lorraine Barbosa, our outgoing Koret Foundation Veterinary Intern, is giving a presentation on other exciting field rescues for Members’ Only Night, Wednesday, JULY 10 beginning at 6 p.m. Click here to reserve today!


Read about another successful disentanglement

Learn about elephant seals

Learn about our Leave Seals Be campaign!


Printer Friendly
 Click to subscribe to our RSS feed!



COVID Response

Focusing on safety in our core work.

Learn more
Adopt a Seal

Your symbolic adoption helps our patients thrive.

Share the Love!

Honor or remember loved ones with your gift.

Give Joy