Saturday, April 11, 2009

More Than You Probably Want To Know About Fish... and Poll Results!

So after taking last week off, I'm back at the rescue center. Since my last regular update we've received at least 6 new Elephant Seals, 7 Seal Lions, and 1 Harbor Seal.. and that's not including patients that have passed away or been released!

Right as I entered the center, I was immediately asked to assist with the euthanasia of an juvenile Elephant Seal that had suffered extreme facial wounds that had left him unable to hunt and eat food on his own (not exactly the best way to start your day). After the euthanasia, the on-call vet performed a necropsy, starting with the seal's face. Usually I enjoy helping out with this kind of thing, but it was just too early in the morning for my stomach to be OK with a necropsy (I had eaten breakfast in the car on the way there), so I opted to help out with the fish sorting instead.

All of the fish we use at the center is bought from fishermen based in Huntington Beach. We go through the exact same process that a restaurant would go through in order to get fish for their customers. In fact, the meat we use for our pinnipeds is of a similar quality to what you'd find in a high end seafood restaurant! We buy mostly Herring and Anchovy, which come in boxes of 10 kilos. The boxes are stacked in our freezer, and every morning and afternoon we unload roughly 20 to 40 kilos into our coolers to be sorted for the pinnipeds.

Usually the first task of the day is to sit down and sort through these frozen fish, weeding out the "bad looking" ones and putting the good ones in bowls for feeding time later in the day. "Bad fish" are one's that might have gone bad before being frozen, or fish that are missing heads. Even if the meat is good, a pinniped will usually refuse to eat a fish without a head. This is most likely an evolutionary adaptation that allows them to recognize healthy fish, while also finding food that will fit down their throats. Pinnipeds always eat fish head-first to avoid any fin-folding as it's being swallowed.

By the end of the fish sorting we end up with a few dozen bowls of fish, organized by which animal will eat it, that go into the fridge until feeding time.

The Juvenile Unit was full of animals this week. There's so many new animals that it would take forever to keep track of them on a one-by-one basis in this blog! Here, one of our volunteers is giving a sub-Q to Cliff, one of our new rescues (see the March 28th entry for more about sub-Q'ing). The process leaves these mounds of fluid under the animal's skin, but it quickly diffuses into the body.

The neighboring Sea Lions didn't seem to be bothered by us...

Here's Milkyway, our newest and most curious Sea Lion. He spent a lot of the day watching animals in other pens, and rolling around in the sun.

Towards the middle of the day we got a rescue call from Dana Point: a city about 15 minutes south of the rescue center. By the time we got to the beach where the caller was, the animal had gotten back into the water and was gone! (For anyone who's familiar with the area, the animal was found at the Ocean Institute, right next to the antique sailing boat that they use for their classes.)

Back at PMMC, our three favorite Elephant Seals were being "herded" into their nighttime pen, where we had a bed made out of blankets for them to sleep on. Unfortunately, nothing is easy when it comes to Augustine, Bobcat, and Natasha...

Augustine was the brave one who went first.

She was followed reluctantly by Bobcat..

...and finally Natasha came too.

Usually all it takes to move an Ele is to stand behind them with a board, but sometimes they need an extra push. They never hesitate to voice their disapproval (in case you didn't notice)... I think Augustine was saying something along the lines of "go die in a fire". In the end, they enjoyed their warm and dry beds.

In the outside pens we fed two new Ele's: Hershey and Bosco. Being able to dive and eat in the water is an indicator of great health!

Last but not least, the results are in for the first ever Pinniped Poll! Thanks to everyone who came and voted!

"Which is your favorite pinniped at PMMC?"

In first place we have Sea Lions, with 38% of the vote!

Closely followed by Elephant Seals, who had 30% of the vote!

In third place was Northern Fur Seals, with 23% of the vote. This surprised me because we haven't had any Fur Seals at PMMC since I started this blog, and the only exposure I've given them is the picture on the sidebar under the pinniped description.... but the votes don't lie!

In last place was the Harbor Seals, with 15%. Poor Wexford!!! I never would have guessed that Ele's would out-vote the Harbor Seals!

The poll is closed now, but I'll leave the result box at the bottom of the page so that it can still be viewed. I'm definitely going to have more polls in the future. If you have any ideas for future polls, leave a comment and tell me! Until then, cya next week.

Friday, April 3, 2009

First Ever Pinniped Poll

I've set up the first ever Pinniped Poll on the right hand side of the blog! (the poll is closed as of 4/11/09)
Vote for which one of the animals at PMMC is your favorite! There are MANY more pinnipeds in the world than the 4 listed in the poll. For instance, did you know that Walruses are pinnipeds too? The ones included in the poll are just the most common ones we find at the rescue center, because they are the ones who live in southern California. 

I'm on vacation this weekend, so there isn't going to be a regular update. Until next week, I'll leave the poll up, and include the results in my next post. Have a good week! 

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


I was moving Augustine onto the scales to be weighed today, and I got a cell phone call so I went outside to get better reception. While I was gone, Augustine got into our rescue truck, and hit the gas pedal! She's been driving down PCH for hours now! We can't catch her! 

Monday, March 30, 2009


Alexa, a 9 year old girl, and her journalist mom, Cindy, have a blog where they talk about all things ocean to get everyone involved in protecting their future. This week, they interviewed me for their "Make a Difference Monday" post, where they talk about pinnipeds, the PMMC, and fatpin! You can view the article here:   and check out the rest of their site at

Thanks for letting me be a part of your great blog, Alexa and Cindy! 

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Gatorade Resort Spa... and a Pox!

The Mammal Rescue Center is turning into a Elephant Seal resort spa! We have 2 new Ele's, which brings us to a total of 5.

Here are Cunningham and Napali, our two newest Elephant rescues. Cunningham is in the back receiving subcutaneous fluid therapy (also called a sub-Q). Sub-Q's help rehydrate animals that aren't getting enough water by putting a solution into their body that can easily be absorbed. Think of it like a pinniped Gatorade! It's common for new patients who are underweight do have Sub-Qs administered until they are eating a healthy amount again. Even dogs and cats can be Sub-Q'd by a vet if they need the extra hydration. The process looks like just an IV, except the needle doesn't go into any veins, but into their outer layer of fat. This creates a temporary bump of fluid under the skin that quickly diffuses into the body and disappears.

Augustine and Bobcat are doing well. They spent most of the day sleeping (or eating). Natasha, on the other hand, decided to socialize with her Sea Lion neighbors.

Elephant Seal's front flippers aren't as useful as Sea Lion's when it comes to walking on land, but they have a lot better dexterity since their joints aren't as long. They frequently use those little flippers to throw sand up on their body for heat insulation, and they're always scratching themselves in places that Sea Lions wouldn't be able to reach.. Here's Bobcat giving himself a scratch.

Below is a video of Augustine picking her nose..

(did she just eat her boogers?!)

Wexford, the Harbor Seal, is putting on a lot of blubber! He spends a lot of time with the Ele's, so we occasionally let him have a kiddie-pool to himself in the outside patio. This also lets us wash off the Elephant Seal stench from his fur.

It looks like he was having a nice time socializing with the Seal Lions in the pen next to him. Wexford makes friends everywhere he goes!

Catlin, the Sea Lion who had her mouth tore open by a fishing line (the one that I said looked like the Joker last week), is doing well. She was moved into Unit 1, where the floors are heated and covered in blankets. We don't want her interacting with other animals yet, because she could reopen her wound even while trying to play with the other juveniles. The other animals could also get her wound infected. Hopefully by next week she will be able to interact again with the other juvies.

One new Sea Lion was rescued this week: Hooligan. He's getting along really well with the rest of the juveniles in Unit 1.

Samoa, Limerick, and Veronica all "graduated" from (were simply moved out of) the juvenile unit, and into their own pen. Unfortunately Samoa caught a pox and had to be quarantined! The pox is similar to a viral infection you would find in other mammals- he developed bumps on his skin, and a fever. We put special foot baths outside his pen so that our boots are clean when entering and exiting. Also, the boards we use to move Samoa also have to be scrubbed down with soap after interacting with him. The quarantine idea was working at first, but Samoa kept playing with Veronica and Limerick through the fence, so by the end of the day they all ended up back together.

I'll end this week's post with a video of some of the senior-resident Sea Lions playing around right after being moved inside for the night. (I say senior-resident but these are still young pups, still less than a year old.)

Sunday, March 22, 2009


This week was incredibly busy for the volunteers. Usually we have 2 animal care specialists at any given time, along with 4 to 6 volunteers. When I walked in this Friday I found out that I might be the only one volunteering, and that we only had one animal care specialist on call! Another volunteer ended up coming in later, so for the entire day it was just the 3 of us instead of our usual 7 or 8! 

The lack of help boiled down to one thing: none of us had a single second of time to spare. Because of that, I couldn't take many pictures this week, but I did experiment with some video (The video I recorded this week was more of practice run than anything else. Now that I know I can put video up on here I'll be trying to capture some better footage). Here's a photo I took of the rescue center, on my way back from dumping the garbage.

The center is in a beautiful canyon in southern California. After it rains the plant life blooms into a deep emerald carpet that covers the canyon walls. Oddly enough, this is the second big red barn I've worked at (in southern Cali you don't come across barns very often). 

We had a lot of new arrivals this week. Two new Elephant Seals have joined Augustine in Juvenile Unit 2. Since it was cold out, we kept them inside (where their stench could fester quietly until the whole barn smelled). The picture below is of Natasha, and Bobcat is giving a lethargic hello in the video. 

That sound you hear in the video is of them breathing. Their nostrils completely close up, and open in short bursts when they inhale- this keeps water out of their noses when they are under water. They can utilize an amazing amount of oxygen that their bodies take in- even from those brief inhalations. Their ability to carry around large quantities of oxygen in their blood allows them to hold their breath for extended periods of time (for Elephant Seals, the max amount of time is around 80 minutes).

Unfortunately I couldn't get any more pictures of them together, but Wexford (the Harbor Seal from last week) gets along really well with the 3 Ele's. 

In Unit 1 we have Limrick, Samoa, and Arco (yes, Arco is doing well since last week!), along with our 3 new Sea Lions: Ming, Emerald, and Catlin. Catlin came in with a laceration starting at the mouth and going up the side of her muzzle (think the Joker from The Dark Knight). It looks like a fishing hook was caught there before she came to the center. Doc fixed her up, but she had to stay in the Med Room all day so she wouldn't reopen her wound while interacting with the other Sea Lions. Ming and Emerald are still getting used to their 3 new friends.

Here's a picture of Ming trying to suckle on Arco. Below is a video of the two of them, with Emerald trying to position herself on her blanket.

Pinnipeds are wild animals, and as cute as they are they will still attack you if given the chance. Think of them like you would a wolf or coyote instead of like a dog. Because the ultimate goal of the rescue center is to rehabilitate and release the animals, we try to limit our interaction with them as much as possible so they don't become accustomed to humans. We don't talk to the animals like we would with dogs, and we don't pet them or pick them up. This is also for our own safety. 

When we move these animals around we use large boards instead of interacting with them directly. This is both for our own safety, and to break the connection to humans the Pinniped might make as we are interacting with them. Here's a picture of a typical board:

Any time we enter a pen we carry a board like this in with us. I brought one in with me this week so that I could move the Ele's around at feeding time, and the second I put the board down against the wall, Bobcat decided to take a bite out of my leg. They don't have sharp teeth, but the raw force of the bite sent her blunt teeth through my rubber pants, through my regular pants, and through my skin (and he's only a baby!). He didn't leave much of a wound, but I got a crazy bruise out of it, along with a lesson to not turn my back on the Elephant Seals..

Next week I'll come back with some better video and pictures! Feel free to leave comments if you have any questions, requests, or anything to say at all. We're also on twitter now, so you can follow us there and get reminders when new blogs are posted! (

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


fatpin is now twittering! 

Follow us live! Spread the word! 

Which is your favorite pinniped at PMMC?