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Internship at the Marine Mammal Center


Whale Necropsy (200)

This summer I interned with The Marine Mammal Center, a hospital for sick or injured marine mammals. My videotaping internship with the center took me into the patients’ pens, surgeries, and necropsies as well as to the beach for rescues, releases, and even on-site whale necropsies! I got a behind-the-scenes view of the Fish Kitchen, Research laboratories, and most of all, the hard work that goes into coordinating all of the operations running through The Marine Mammal Center. 

Most of my job consisted of putting together videos which will be used in an educational program called the “Three R’s”, which tracks a patient’s journey through rescue and onto his or her release, documenting intermediate procedures such as feedings, fish school, and surgeries. The rest of my videos were put together to train volunteers and people already involved with The Marine Mammal Center. These are all instructional videos which will be narrated in real time and therefore have no soundtrack besides the animals’ natural vocalizations.

See the videos I made below and scroll down further for detailed descriptions of each video.

*Warning- Graphic Content in "Necropsy" videos*

The Marine Mammal Center Videos

The Marine Mammal Center Videos

Pier 39 Rescue Attempt Video:

One of my main goals this summer was to acquire footage of a rescue. I came on about three rescues, not many of them leaving from Sausalito, as opposed to the other locations further south on the 300 mile range which The Marine Mammal Center rescues animals from. In one case, the animal returned to the water before we got to the site. Needless to say, rescues rarely go as planned. This rescue was very planned, but the animal escaped to the water to the side of where it was expected to. The video shows the planning behind the operation and the action unfold.

Common Patients Video:

This video shows the three types of animals we commonly treat at the center, California Sea Lions, Elephant Seals, and Harbor Seals, and the differences between them.

Admit Exam Video:

Here, an elephant seal is admitted to the center. It is measured and inspected for any external disease that could have resulted in its stranding. Blood is taken from each admitted patient by a trained veterinarian. The vet also listens to the animal’s heart and lungs. The sex of the patient is determined and a tag is given, on the left flipper for a male and the right for a female (because women are always right!).

Tube Feeding Video:

When an animal is first admitted to the center, especially the animals which come in as pups who have never fed in the wild before, they are usually too sick or have never learned to eat fish on their own. They are tube fed a “fish milkshake” until they can recognize fish as food and begin to eat it.

Fish School Video:

This video shows the process through which The Marine Mammal Center teaches their patients how to eat fish. While still feeding the animals this “fish milkshake”, the animal will begin receive training which the center calls “fish school”. The animals learn to recognize fish as food and learn how to compete with others to get the food it needs, before it is released into the wild. If an animal isn’t able to successfully feed on its own, for example if its eyesight has been severely impaired to the point where it can’t locate a fish in the pool with the animal, it may be placed in an aquarium, zoo, or with the Navy. The center has a high success rate, however, and returns many healthy animals out to the ocean each year, successfully competing with wild animals for fish.

Non-Sterile Surgery Video:

This video shows a check-up of an animal which had jaw surgery. The animal was anesthetized and various procedures were done including x-rays, blood withdrawal, and an ultrasound in order to locate the bladder to extract urine. A “surgery” at the center is considered to be anytime anesthesia is administered.

Necropsy Videos:
*Warning- Graphic Content*

-Juvenile Gray Whale Necropsy:

This video shows the dissection of a whale which passed away due to a severe entanglement around its body. Multiple signs pointed to the entanglement as the sole reason for its death.

-Female California Sea Lion Necropsy:

The adult female passed away due to cancer. She passed away two days after being brought to the center. Mets were found covering her organs and tissues. Cancer in California Sea Lions is the second most common case of cancer among animals and it is a disease commonly dealt with at the center. It is also one for which a cure has not yet been found, so a lot of research is being done, for the sake of the marine mammals and us, also commonly affected by this disease.

Disentanglement Video:

Unfortunately, one of the cases commonly seen at the center is of human interaction. This subadult California Sea Lion, named HC, was spotted in Monterey with a thick black rubber band around his neck. The animal was disentangled by a team of veterinarians and was released a couple days later (see below).

Release Videos:

-Release of HC

Two days after his disentanglement, HC, was released at Rodeo Beach next to The Marine Mammal Center. My footage of his release was aired on NBC and KVTU that night, see photo below.


-Release of California Sea Lions and Elephant Seals

-Release of Elephant Seals

These two videos show similar releases of patients at Chimney Rock in Point Reyes National Seashore, a safe place for the animals where they can find fish and wild animals to ease the transition to the wild. These animals are not released to where they were found, because they are often found stranded in unnatural or unsafe places.

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