Sunday, January 11, 2015

Photo Essay: Rescue, Rehab and Release at the Marine Mammal Care Center

Every time you see a seal or a sea lion laying on the beach, bathing in the sun, beaching itself on some rocks, you think "Oh they're so cute!"



And then when you get up close to them...



...in a kayak...



...or off the PCH along the Central Coast...



...you hear them and they sound like monsters, barking like evil dogs, menacing like the Smoke Monster from LOST.



At the Marine Mammal Care Center at Fort MacArthur in San Pedro...



...you can see how strong these puppy dogs of the sea are...



...with skulls sturdy enough to brutally crack another seal in the head when competing for a female, or to chew up the mightiest of fish.



But as fierce as they can be, they can't always defend themselves against humans' deadly influence.



The pinnipeds of the Pacific Ocean are big fish-eaters, unfortunately making them the enemy of fishermen. To reduce competition for their catch, fishermen sometimes illegally hunt and kill the seals, despite the fact that they've been protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act since 1972.



Between getting shot by bullets, swallowing fishing hooks, and generally starving and becoming dehydrated because their food supply is diving deeper into the ocean to escape the global warming at the surface, harbor seals, fur seals, elephant seals, and sea lions get sick and become stranded on the beach.



Hopefully, swimmers, surfers or lifeguards spot them in time and can make a call to the Marine Mammal Care Center, whose marine biologists, vets and volunteers rescue them, tag them (males on the left, females on the right), rehabilitate them (sometimes feeding them through a tube), and, ideally, release them.



Anyone can go visit the seals...



...but as cute as they are...



...for everyone's protection, they are two chainlink fences away...



...and handled only by trained staff.



Some of them have rather minor, easily treated conditions (dehydration, mites), but others have contracted an incurable virus that destroys the hippocampus, makes them go a little crazy, and turns them violent.



They lose their sense of navigation, and even if they're released back into the wild (which usually happens at White Point / Royal Palms County Beach), they'll probably wander out of the Pacific and up onto the road, becoming stranded once again.

Unfortunately, the Marine Mammal Care Center is a temporary facility – it's not a shelter or a sanctuary, but more of a veterinary hospital where these cuties have a limited amount of time to get well. No matter how cute they are, if they can't survive on their own, they are either transferred to another facility that can take care of them long-term, or they're put down, and put out of their misery.

There is too much to do, too many to save, too many new ones getting sick every day. In the high season, the Marine Mammal Care Center might be overwhelmed with as many as 500 pinnipeds at any one time.

At some point, they have to give up on some of them. They can't save them all.

But they try to make a difference, one barking seal at a time.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: The Ruins of White Point
Photo Essay: Combing the Beach For the Royal Palms Country Club