With pupping season well under way along the West Coast, the Sausalito-based Marine Mammal Center has issued an urgent call for volunteers to keep its kitchens and other operations running apace with the arrival of young new patients.
Though less overwhelmed than it was over the past three years, when a huge number of weak and starving sea lion pups came ashore in California, the facility is struggling to keep up with the demands of rescuing, feeding and caring for orphaned and injured creatures from a 600-mile range of California coastline, representatives said.
“This time of year at the center is always our busy season because all the young animals were born this spring and they’ve been separated from their moms for a variety of reasons,” said Shawn Johnson, director of veterinary science for the center, the world’s largest marine mammal rehabilitation facility.
The nonprofit center takes in animals from San Luis Obispo County northward to Sonoma and Mendocino counties, which combined accounted for 58 of the 966 marine mammals admitted to the center last year, spokesman Giancarlo Rulli said.
As of Friday, Johnson said, the center had 124 marine mammals on site, 95 of them elephant seals, which have made up a large percentage of the patients arriving so far this year.
Johnson said heavy storm activity this winter with “really big surf” has apparently been sweeping elephant seal pups off the rocks in the rookeries and away from their mothers.
More recently, there’s been a surge in harbor seal pups, he said.
“On March 6, we only had 28 animals on site, and now we have 124, so we’ve been bringing in six to 10 animals a day,” Johnson said.
“And luckily we’re starting to do some releases now.”
Several of this year’s elephant seals were picked up on the Sonoma Coast, as was a harbor seal that still had its umbilical cord attached, said Phil Warren of Bodega Bay, a TMMC board member and 10-year rescue volunteer.
“We really don’t want to interfere if we can avoid it,” Warren said.
“Our mantra is the best rescue is no rescue.”
The facility has a variety of volunteer opportunities available, including several that require no training or long-term commitment. Even providing a day of work in the fish kitchen or on clean-up duty makes a difference, given the labor-intensive work of nourishing and caring for the nervous wild animals, many of which require tube-feeding at first, organizers said.
“You’re really involved in something that is not only gratifying because it rescues animals,” Warren said, but because of “all the other stuff that the center does,” including publishing peer-reviewed scientific papers, educating about 30,000 adults and school children each year, and hosting thousands more who visit the hospital facility at the Marin Headlands in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
The most immediate need is for seasonal fish kitchen support volunteers, who work four-hour shifts, seven days a week.
Longer-term volunteers, those who can commit to one day a week for at least six months, are invited to help with direct animal care, though some minimum training is required. Friday animal care workers are urgently needed.
Other volunteer opportunities include transport drivers, rescue and response personnel, like Warren, and administrative support.