Recently a blue whale became tangled in a fishing line off the coast of Santa Catalina Island, an incident more or less unprecedented in marine rescue history, which generally involve smaller critters like sea lions, seals, turtles, sometimes even the odd gray whale or humpback (still small compared to an eighty foot-long blue whale). Rescue attempts seem to have been competent, even though the whale disappeared during the night before it could be fully disentangled. This kind of work is generally in response to human-caused problems—invisible monofilament line in the water, animals eating balloons, etc.—which highlights the importance of a dedicated public interest group focused on rescue and rehabilitation.
In the world of marine biology post-“Blackfish,” it is especially critical that this role be played by a party dedicated to the welfare of the animals. I recently spoke with Laura Scherr at Sausalito’s Marine Mammal Center, located in the Marin Headlands, about the organization’s stated mission to “expand knowledge about marine mammals—their health and that of their ocean environment—and to inspire their global conservation.”
The MMC has a long history of engagement in marine mammal rescue, rehabilitation, and public education. Their rescue permit extends over 600 miles of coastline, from Marin County to San Louis Obispo, and since opening in 1975 they have taken in more than 20,000 sick or wounded animals. In the process of rescuing and caring for these animals they are able to compile data for a wide variety of research projects, with objectives ranging from wildlife conservation to advancing treatments for diseases affecting humans. “We learn from every animal that comes through our doors,” Scherr said. One example: by studying sea lions exposed to domoic acid, the neurotoxin found in “red tide” algae blooms, MMC scientists and collaborators have been able to examine symptoms that the toxin produces in humans, including disorientation and seizures.
If you’re interested in visiting the MMC, tours are conducted four days out of the week and cost $9 for adults. Don’t expect to pet any dolphins, but you will catch a glimpse of world-renowned marine biologists at work saving lives. http://www.marinemammalcenter.org/visiting-us/docent-led-tours.html
By Brian Gruters
Brian writes about science, conservation, and ways that people interact with nature for various publications, as well as his blog, briangruters.com. He is an aspiring surfer, member of the Southern California Mountaineers Association, and likes to explore mountains and canyons.
Quote of the week:
“Oh man! admire and model thyself after the whale! Do thou, too, remain warm among ice. Do thou, too, live in this world without being of it.” Herman Melville, Moby Dick; or, The Whale