This morning I woke up to an overcast, rainy day in Laguna Beach. Kristy had met me for breakfast and after a morning coffee and bagel, and we were soon on our way to work! Our schedule starts at 7:30am, but some of the other staff and volunteers had arrived at 6am to get the gruel prepared for the nursery pups’ first tube feeding of the day. When we arrived, the tube feeding had just begun so we hopped right into the rotation. The tube feeding process usually takes about an hour and a half to complete.
After the morning tube feed, we tackled the cleaning of both nursery units while shifting all of the pups outside until we had finished the inside pens. On cooler, rainy days like today, most of the pups and smaller sea lions spend the day inside to stay warm.
A sad reality in this line of work is that some animals come to the rehab center in very poor condition and no matter how hard we try, their condition is beyond our means of help. Sadly, today we lost a few pups. It is hard to say exactly what the pups had died from, but often they come into the facility severely emaciated and malnourished. They can be sustained for many days and even weeks, but eventually they succumb to their illnesses. Although this unfortunate outcome happens to a few of the animals here, a large number of other seals and sea lions at PMMC get a second chance at life due to the dedicated staff and volunteers here at the facility.
One of those very dedicated staff here is named Alexandra. I like to refer to her as the “pinniped whisperer”. When someone can’t get an elephant seal to eat or has trouble getting “Lil Spock” the fur seal to tube feed, Alexandra will have that animal eating in no time! Nothing seems to phase her, particularly when tagging two large sub-adult sea lions today for a release tomorrow. In order to tag these sea lions, Alexandra would have to restrain them while a plastic tag is attached to their hind flipper.
The tagging process is very similar to getting your ears pierced. The flipper tag is made out of two separate plastic pieces; one has a sharp side while the other has a small hole. With similar ear piercing equipment, the sharp side of the tag goes through the skin of the flipper and fits into the hole on the other side of the plastic tag. The tag is colored and also has a number on it which is specific to that individual seal/sea lion only. This is very helpful when an animal is sighted in the wild. By identifying who that animal is from their flipper tag, their location can be tracked over the following years. It is always exciting and rewarding to re-sight an animal in the wild after they had gone through rehabilitation. In addition, if they ever need to be rescued again in the future, by knowing who the individual animal is, a medical history can be provided for trends and correlations of that individual’s health with previous strandings.
After the sea lions were tagged and the rest of the animals were fed (and now sleeping next to their cozy blankets), it was time to head home before another eventful release day at PMMC tomorrow.