Ron Kardon is an architect in California who is volunteering at the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito and shared his experience.
I continue to volunteer at a number of places, most recently (since July 2011) at the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, which is just north across the Bay.
It’s a hospital, not a zoo or Sea World thing. Work is a full 7AM to 4 PM every Sunday, taking care of the sea lions and elephant seals. Animal husbandry, which means assisting medical personnel, herding (moving) the patients, restraining them when necessary for medical and nutritional procedures, weighing, cleaning a LOT of pinniped excretions, sanitizing pens and pools, preparing solid, liquid, and pureed food, sanitizing the medical kitchen, feeding the animals, tubing the puree down their throats when critical to alleviate malnutrition and starvation, medical charting…
It’s not really possible to tell you how awesome this has been. I never thought I’d ever work or have any real contact with wild animals. And they are wild alright, and incredibly powerful, even the maturing pups. With very sharp teeth, especially the sea lions. And they grow very big, although the largest that I’ve handled was probably a 350 or 400 pound male sea lion. The pups are tremendously cute, particularly the harbor seals. The infants vocalize by making a noise that–so help me–sounds like “Ma Ma”.
We are coming out of the elephant seal pup season, and are heading into the sea lions now. Summer and Fall, a lot of juveniles and adults start coming in with leptospriosis and neurological diseases related to ocean-borne toxins like domoic acid. And all sorts of shark bites, and human-inflicted atrocities like gun shots, arrows, nets and fishing line wrapped around their throats and flippers, blunt trauma, propeller lacerations.
All in all, I’m very happy to be doing this, and wish I had started much earlier. I’m not sure how long I’ll be able to do this kind of work, but I will, as long as I am physically able.
Ron Kardon is an architect who has called San Francisco home since 1985. Over the years, he has volunteered for an assortment of non-profit organizations, including the San Francisco SPCA http://sfspca.org/, Project Open Hand http://www.openhand.org/, and since July 2011, the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, just north of the City.
As an animal husbandry volunteer at the Center, he cares for sick and injured Northern Elephant Seals and Northern Sea Lions, sometimes harbor seals and fur seals. He loves creatures of all stripes, but before this would have never imagined he would be working with wild animals. At almost 60 now, and he wishes he had gotten involved years ago, but will continue as long as he is physically able.
“My close hands-on connection to these beautiful oceanic creatures — which have very sharp teeth, grow to be quite large and heavy, and can be rather aggressive if they feel encroachment into their space — makes me a part of a much larger world beyond my own. That in itself is reassuring.”