Snowshoes in the Summer

California Wildlife Center recently rescued a Northern Mockingbird whose feet were knuckling, meaning she was unable to open her feet to stand or perch.  This was causingbefore and after snowshoes the bird to have to stand on the tops of her toes which were curled under and causing her additional injury.

CWC veterinary staff created “snowshoes” for the mockingbird to retrain her feet to open and allow the injuries to her toes to heal.  The treatment was successful and the bird is now snowshoe-free and on the road to full recovery!

Fur Seals of Isla Guadalupe

By Staff Veterinarian, Dr. Lorraine Barbosa

This March, I had the amazing privilege of traveling to Isla Guadalupe, a small island off the coast of Baja Mexico, and the primary place in the world where the ESA-listed Guadalupe fur seal breeds. I traveled with a team of scientists from the Centro Interdisciplinario de Ciencias Marinas (CICIMAR-IPN), Sonoma State University, and The Marine Mammal Center, whose research topics included general health assessments, satellite tagging, investigation of environmental and handling stressors, and my project- anesthesia parameters.

Fur Seal Pup by Lorraine Barbosa

Guadalupe fur seals are on the Endangered Species Act list and considered threatened. Photo by Lorraine Barbosa

We traveled first by car to Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico, then by 22hr boat ride to the small volcanic island located 250mi into the vast desolation of the Pacific Ocean. Each morning we made a short trek to the fur seal rookery, a long rocky outcropping where waves whipped against the shores and tides ruled our daily routine. There, we were surrounded by the wailing cries of adult females arriving to the rookery from foraging trips, calling back and forth to their bleating pups until they reunited. The young pups whose mothers were away played and jughandled carefree in the tidepools, while the older pups, who for the most part were plump and healthy, sunned themselves on the rocks before heading off into the ocean on their own adventures.

We rotated between catching pups and adult females, overall anesthetizing 15 seals during our stay. Catching the pups was relatively simple: sneak up and grab them with a net while they slept. Catching the adult females took a bit more finesse. They were much more alert and skittish. One had to spend time sneaking up on them, taking small crouched steps forward each time they closed their eyes for just a moment, and pretending to be disinterested in them each time they opened their eyes to reassess our proximity. Once close enough, one had to quickly net the 55kg of unruly muscle and retain her until the others arrived to help. A face mask was then applied, and Isoflurane gas anesthesia was delivered until the seal slipped into unconsciousness. Once asleep, each researcher set out collecting samples for their various research projects. Meanwhile, I monitored heart rate, respiratory rate, and other vital parameters, ensuring the animal was maintained at a proper level of anesthesia. In the evenings we would assemble in our makeshift living room laboratory, all working together to process the day’s samples, until the electricity would go out at 10pm. The anesthesias progressed smoothly and quickly, and before we knew it, so had our time on the island. As we departed on our final day, the rookery again becoming engulfed by the sounds of the thrashing waves and the howling cries of the fur seals, I knew how lucky I was to have had such an incredible experience, and that I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.
All activities were conducted under permits (DGVS/00050/16) issued to Dr. Fernando Elorriaga Verplancken (CICIMAR-IPN) by the Mexico Secretaría del Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (SEMARNAT) and Comisión Nacional de Áreas Naturales Protegidas (CONANP)-Reserva de la Biósfera Isla Guadalupe.

 

Seal Survives Shark Strike

Northern Elephant Seal Receives Care

Elephant Seal After Rehab by Jeff Hall

After nearly two months of rehabilitation, this Northern elephant seal is ready for release! The injury to the chin caused by a cookiecutter shark has caused permanent scarring to the animal’s chin, but healing progressed well and he should have no lingering effects from the injury. Photo by Jeff Hall

By Marine Program Manager, Jeff Hal

Cookiecutter sharks sound like they’d be something really cute.  I draw images in my head of a rotund little shark, slowly marauding through the ocean with googly eyes, looking for cookie prey.  The reality is something not as lovable.  Cookiecutter sharks have round mouths ringed with teeth.  They will prey upon nearly any animal in the sea by latching onto skin of the animal and spinning, using their sharp teeth to remove a round piece of flesh.  The wound looks like it was made by a cookie cutter, hence the shark’s uniquely cute-sounding name.

1 Elephant Seal Before by Lorraine Barbosa

This Northern elephant seal was rescued by CWC’s Marine Department at La Costa Beach in Malibu with severe injuries to his chin and right side. Photo by Lorraine Barbosa

In April of this year, CWC’s Marine Department rescued an underweight Northern elephant seal pup from La Costa Beach in Malibu that was suffering from two cookiecutter shark wounds.  One was on the animal’s right side; the other was under his chin.  Both were significant, but the chin wound posed the greatest danger as jaw bone was exposed.

Marine Department staff and veterinarians worked daily to ensure the wound was kept clean, not an easy task for an animal that lies on his belly.  With constant cleaning (such as extra scrubbing of the enclosure flooring and letting the seal rest his head on clean towels), a course of antibiotics, numerous surgeries to debride the wound, and a few hundred pounds of fish, this Northern elephant seal was prepared to be returned to the wild!  On June 8, a team of CWC staff and volunteers helped carry his 154 pounds of blubber to the beach for release at Leo Carillo State Beach in Malibu!  Returning animals to the wild is always the most rewarding part of working and volunteering at CWC.

Saving an animal with cookiecutter shark wounds is just one of many examples of the hundreds of animals CWC’s Marine Department responds to each year.  To put it in perspective, in 2015, CWC responded to 568 reports of marine mammals stranded on the beach and rescued a total of 325 animals.  Of the 325 animals rescued, 138 were brought to CWC for rehabilitative care.  If a rescued animal is not taken to CWC’s marine mammal rehabilitation facility it is brought to other regional facilities such as the Marine Mammal Care Center at Fort MacArthur in San Pedro.

Luckily for marine mammals in the area, 2016 has been a somewhat slower season, but the Marine Department has still been responding to high numbers of stranded marine mammals.  In the first six months of 2016, CWC has responded to 331 reports of stranded marine mammals and rescued 208 of those animals.  Of the 208 rescued animals, 52 were brought to CWC for rehabilitative care.  Typically, CWC’s Marine Department sees an increase in rescues during the summer months because of increased human activity at the beaches.  There is also an increase in rescues of California sea lion pups which are born between May and July.  If something happens to a pup’s mother, or if the animal is weaned too early, they will need an organization like California Wildlife Center to help them along.

Whether it is caring for a California sea lion that was entangled in fish netting or rehabilitating a Northern elephant seal with textbook  cookiecutter shark wounds, CWC’s Marine Dept. staff and volunteers are doing our part to return sick and injured wildlife back to nature!