Photos Courtesy of PMMC.
I remember visiting the Pacific Marine Mammal Center as a girl and being moved by the care the animals received, and loving the animals themselves. It was over 20 years ago and that visit to the PMMC has stuck with me.
The roots of the PMMC — now the only such rescue in Orange County — are unassuming: In 1971 a little girl noticed an injured harbor seal on the beach and asked a lifeguard for help. That lifeguard — Jim Staffer — took the animal home and cared for it in a bathtub, releasing it back into the Pacific once it was healthy.
Over time the story spread, and Jim would be contacted whenever someone spotted a sea lion that needed help. This movement grew organically into The Pacific Marine Mammal Institute: beginning with volunteer bathtubs, to volunteers digging the first pools by hand, to now having professional, heated and filtered facilities donated by the community and local businesses. The organization is still 90% volunteer–run, and has helped more than 5,000 animals.
The center rescues, rehabilitates, and then releases marine mammals, all the while gathering information to better protect and treat them in the future. For example, in 2013 there was a phenomena where there was such an inordinately high number of calls for sick Sea Lions, they called it the Sea Lion Unusual Mortality Event (UME). During the height of the UME, the center picked up the smallest pup of the year, just 15 lbs. Nicknamed Drew, the pup was suffering from severe malnutrition and dehydration. Drew was initially treated with clear electrolyte fluid, which was slowly supplemented with marine mammal milk, and then fish were added gradually. With great patience, the staff at PMMC were able to feed Drew whole fish for the first time within one month of being there. After 9 months of rehabilitation, Drew had begun competing with the other Sea Lions for food, which is a sign they are ready to be released.
Drew was tagged with a satellite tracker and released. The tracker followed Drew all the way to the an inlet in Northern Baja, where a group of Sea Lions and grey whales live. The tracker stopped responding, but whale watching groups in the area have seen Drew and report that she is doing well.
In addition to these amazing rescues, the PMMC offers educational opportunities, from Preschool to Adult, where you can learn more about marine mammals and the work that they do.
PMMC has two events each year, and their website has about 15 different ways you can support the center, including donations and volunteer opportunities. There is also a wealth of educational information on the website, or you can do it the fun way and visit the center any day between 10am-4pm and see it for yourself.
Pacific Marine Mammal Center rescues, rehabilitates, and releases marine mammals as well as inspires ocean stewardship through research education and collaboration. PMMC cares for common Pinnipeds to Southern California such as Northern elephant seals, Pacific harbor seals, and California sea lions and is also the only temporary holding facility for small whales and dolphins between Santa Barbara and San Diego. PMMC is responsible for animals stranded on beaches along the Orange County coast. The range extends north to Seal Beach and south to San Onofre. We are a member of the Marine Mammal Stranding Network that service animals along the entire coastline of the United States.