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! 

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Sunday, March 15, 2009


This week brought a surprise to the PPMC: a Harbor Seal pup. I've never actually seen one at the center, apparently they aren't extremely uncommon this time of year. Harbor Seals follow similar mating patterns as the Elephant Seals: they begin birthing in the spring time. Although it's still pretty early in the season, it looks like some Harbor Seals have already started the process. 

This guy's name is Wexford, and hes about as long as a regular sized pillow. It was hard to take a picture of him, because he was constantly moving his head around trying to identify different sounds he would hear. He's definitely more curious than the other animals at the center. I've always noticed that most of the Elephant Seals and Sea Lions are pretty oblivious to most of the things we are doing during the day, from cleaning cages to holding down the pups during tube feedings- they are just in their own world. Wexford is the first animal who actively investigates things that are happening. When the pool in the pen next door was filling up, he wormed over to the fence to see what was making the loud noise. During tube feeding he looks slightly concerned about why we are straddling the other animals (which is more than can be said for the sea lions, who walk away in disinterest). He's also much more aggressive than the other species at the center, which indicates that he's aware of not being where should be, even at his young age. 
The first time I saw him I couldn't stop laughing at how small and cute he was, but whenever someone would go near him he would try to flop over and bite them (which made me laugh even harder). Even if we were coming in his pen to inspect his Sea Lion roomate, he would start a hubristic (but slow and ineffective) charge at us, and would snap if we got too close. 

When I talk to the other volunteers about Harbor Seals, I can tell by the tone in their voice that they are very difficult animals to care after. I'm the only one whos expressed an admiration for the pup, and I'm also the only one who hasn't had to care for one in the past (coincidence? probably not).

Other new additions to the Juvenile Unit this week are Samoa, Limerick, and Arco. Arco's the one in the pictures below who is laying down by himself. You can see his ribs and most of his shoulder, even when he's laying down, which is a bad sign. All three of them are severely malnourished, but Arco is the worst.

Samoa came in with an injury to his left flipper, coupled with malnourishment. His flipper is being treated, and will be fine. Hopefully he will start putting on weight now that we are giving him some fish smoothies. Limerick is really rowdy with the volunteers and with the other Sea Lions, but he gets along unusually well with the two other aggressors in the Juvy Unit (Wexford and Augustine).

Veronica is still with us, but the Sea Lion she came in with, Tuscany, didn't make it through the week. Sometimes we receive pups that are in the final stages of starvation, and even though we can administer nourishment through tubing, it might be too late. There's a certain point you can reach during starvation where it's just too late, even if you can find food for yourself. Your body just shuts down and it's in too much trouble to accept the food that would have saved it a few days earlier. One of our Elephant Seals, Tallahasse, met the same fate. 

The remaining Elephant Seal, Augustine, is still with us. He's healthy enough to get up and move around now, so we opened the back door so he could get some sun. He doesn't smell NEARLY as bad now that he's out in the open.. When I walked into his pen I thought that maybe the smell was gone.. but once I got close enough to him I was assaulted with a barrage of olfactory flashbacks from last week. He's still the same stink-horror that he was last week.. there's just more air to diffuse the smell now! 

I was trained by the senior staff on how to subdue an Elephant Seal this week. It involves approaching the animal, covering it's face while you straddle it, and getting a tube into it's mouth so another volunteer can start the tube feeding. I've seen this done a thousand times, but I've never actually performed it myself. Starting on Elephant Seals is best because they are so big, and they don't have long limbs that can be caught under your feet like the Sea Lions do. Augustine didn't give me much trouble at all, so we performed a pretty successful and stress-free tubing. 

Did I mention that their smell rubs off, and I smelled like dead cow for the rest of the day?

The remaining "big lady" from last week, Mendocino, was released. I'm really glad that the Doc (our regular vet, Dr. Evans) decided that she was levelheaded enough to not need our care. I mentioned last week that the effects of ASP from Domoic Acid would only get worse with Mendocino.. this is because we expected more signs of ASP to show up as time went on. The poisoning actually does not get progressively worse on its own: it's severity is related directly to how much Domoic Acid was injested. For Mendocino, it looks like she injested a fair amount of Domoic Acid, but not enough to completely cripple her for the rest of her life. She began eating fish and resuming somewhat normal behavior, and while she will always live with the impairments she suffered from her initial Domoic injestion, she is still "sane" enough to live life on her own. 

A new adult female has come in to take Mendocino's place. Her name is Caroline and she's extremely aggressive. She's in the same boat that the "big ladies" were in when they arrived at the PPMC: a word we've simplified down to "Domoic".

She was laying down when I began to take the pictures, but after watching me for about 5 seconds she decided she had enough, so she jumped on her flippers and charged at me full force. I managed to take a quick shot of her before I backed off.. luckily I was on the other side of the pen's wall.

Personally I think that aggressive behavior is a good sign (but I'm not a vet). If she's aware enough of her surroundings to feel threatened by me, than she isn't as absent minded as Mendocino was when she first arrived. We'll have to see how things play out for Caroline in the next few days. 

The guys in "Pen A" are up to their typical lazy sun basking. Pen A harbors the healthiest animals: the ones ready to be released. If you want to know what a healthy, happy Sea Lion is, than you'll find it here. 

I'm pretty sure next weekend is going to be the release party for a few of these guys. This one can't wait until he's free again in the open ocean!

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Eternal Stench

As promised in my first post, the Elephant Seals have arrived! The PMMC recieved 2 of them this week: Augustine and Tallahasse. 

These fatties are actually a little underweight, and lost their parents. I didn't know before I walked into the center this week, but Elephant Seal pups are probably the most foul smelling things I've ever encountered- and that's coming from someone who's around dead fish on a oddly regular basis. Think of the worst smell you can think of, now put that smell is a hot car for about a month with some mayo and cheese, and you might begin to smell something similar to an Ele pup..

Once I got used to the smell (this never actually happened.. I'm still wondering if I should burn the clothes I wore that day instead of washing them) it was time to clean their pens. These guys are very blunt and very loud! Even though they are extremely tired and unhealthy pups right now they still let you know when your getting too close by letting out a deep gutteral shout. 
The Ele's have a lot of the staff's attention right now, and I'm willing to bet that by next week they will be looking much better. 

This week also brought us two new California Sea Lions: Veronica and Tuscany. 

Both of these guys were found on the Orange County coast, and look pretty malnourished. Right now they are on a diet of fish smoothies that will fatten them up very quickly. They weight about 20 pounds each, and are gaining around 1 pound per day, but once they start eating raw fish they will start putting on a ton of weight very quickly. 

I know they look cute, but don't let that face deceive you. These guys were acting very lethargic, just laying around all day trying to regain their energy, so we tube fed them in the same pen without much protection. During Tuscany's feeding, innocent looking Veronica bolted up and locked her jaws on one of the handler's arms! Luckily she didn't do much damage because of her small size, but it just goes to show you that even the weakest and smallest of the wild animals will still put up a fight to protect themselves. 

Remember the two adult females (the big ladies) from last week? Well one of them, Mendocino, is still in our care, and it looks like she's doing better than she was when she first came in. She's eating now, and the Doc has deemed it OK for her to stay in a pen with a pool. As a bonus, she gets it all to herself because she's the only full grown adult in the center! 

Unfortunately, ASP (amnesic shellfish poisoning) is not cureable. The Domoic Acid has done some serious damage to Mendocino, and she will only get worse. I can't say if she will ever be released, since she has difficulty foraging for food on her own. At least at the center she is given enough medical care to stave off malnourishment and death by drowning (post-siezure). The 2nd of our big ladies died during the week, succuming to the affects of ASP on her central nervous system. Hopefully her death can bring attention to the problem of Domoic Acid in our coastal waters, and prevent more of her kind from falling to the same fate. 

Everyone else at the center is doing great. Some of our healthier (fatter) pups are almost ready to be released! Stay tuned for future entries on: causes and effects of Domoic Acid, release parties, and our special sea lion.. Bismark! 

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Into the Wild..

I wanted to make a second post this week because I ran into a gradute of the PMMC (haha) while whale watching in Newport this weekend! We were returning from the expedition and our captain stopped at a buoy near "the wedge" so that we could see some of the sleeping sea lions that were on its base platform. When we approached the buoy, a young sea lion jumped off and started swimming around the boat. When he surfaced near the viewing deck, we could see the red "released" tag from the PMMC! It was great to see him doing well in his natural habitat. Because he was so fast, I couldn't get a picture of him, but I got some shots of his new family sleeping the day away on the buoy. They look very healthy and fat (notice the little pup resting on dad)!

First Post!

First of all I'd like to encourage anyone visiting this blog to check out the official PMMC website. Getting involved with pinnipeds is really easy, and a little help goes a LONG way! There are a ton of things you can do to help out- from volunteering to donating items like towels and Dawn soap! Even if you don't live in California you can donate money to keep the center running! 

Now, back to the blog..

This week had it's ups and downs, but overall it was really positive. We give special "fish milkshakes" to animals that are unable to eat whole fish on their own. This is a process we call "tube feeding" because they drink the milkshake from a tube that's put into their stomach (ugly, I know, but it keeps them a
live). Anyway, all of our juveniles were healthy enough this week to not need to be tube fed! They all got their own fresh fish lunch. This little guy even got to search the kddie-pool for his food. 

He was too excited to sit still for a picture..

The other pups were full of energy, and played with each other all day. 

Most of our other sea lions were just as healthy and just as happy. Everyone in the outside pens cuddled together under the California sun. When it got too hot they'd just take a dip in the pool. I love the texture of the sea lion's fur in the following pictures. Their hair is extremely dense in order to insulate body heat - thick fur keeps them warm in the cold water! You can see how their thick fur becomes completely streamlined and flat when it gets wet. This helps them swim fast underwater by reducing drag. 

On a sadder note- 2 adult female sea lions were brought in earlier in the week. They were found on the coast near Newport and Crystal Cove. Any time an adult comes in it means bad news. These two were both affected by Domoic acid poisoning, and probably came ashore because they were too disoriented to swim. Domoic acid is a neurotoxin produced by harmful algal blooms. These blooms mainly occur because of things that humans put into the water, and I will probably go into detail on Domoic acid in a future post. The poisoning, called amnesic shellfish poisoning (ASP), cannot be cured, so the best we can do for these two animals (we call them the "big ladies") is make sure they keep eating as long as they are able to, and to keep them comfortable while they are afflicted with this horrible condition. When the poisoning spreads far enough through the sea lion's body the most humane thing to do is to euthanize them so they do not have to endure the painful end that Domoic brings. 

I know that this is pretty heavy information, but it's something that's happening very often on our coast- to all animals. It's important to understand how intimate our relationship to the ocean is (even if we don't know it yet)! 

The sidebar of the blog lists many kind of pinnipeds- so why am I only talking about sea lions today? Well, the local population of sea lions is very large compared to the other 3. This results in a larger concentration of sea lions coming into the rescue center. Right now we are only housing sea lions, but it won't be that way for long. The type of pinniped being rescued can be based on the season. For instance, Elephant Seals are mating right now in Northern Califorina, and in the following months their pups will be migrating south. We are expecting to see a VERY LARGE influx of elephant seals needing our help in Southern California starting in March, so stay tuned! 

Which is your favorite pinniped at PMMC?