California, Conservation, elephant seal pups, Elephant Seals, Elizabeth Fais, Fort Cronkhite, oceanography, racing to extinction, San Francisco, San Francisco Bay Area, Sausalito, The Marine Mammal Center, TMMC, tube feeding, volunteer
In the early 1990’s, I spent a year volunteering at The Marine Mammal Center (TMMC) in Sausalito, California. Being a part of an organization that rescues and rehabilitates marine mammals (of all kinds), then releases them back into the wild, was nothing short of life changing.
I was a member of the Sunday night crew responsible for animal care. Each Sunday night we fed and treated a wide range of marine mammals. My favorite were the doe-eyed elephant seal pups. (Yes, I still have our squad sweatshirt!)
The elephant seal pups in our care had been separated from their mothers, and as a result were undernourished. Our job was to get them healthy enough to release back into the ocean. That meant they had to gain weight. A lot of it.
What do you feed an elephant seal so it packs on the pounds…but is also nutritious and tasty? You might be sorry you asked. I can’t reveal the “secret-recipe“, but it involves whipping together (literally) frozen fish, heavy cream, and a mix of nutritional supplements. A delectable milkshake! Kind of (?) gross, but it works!
The pups needed to be fed every 3 or 4 hours, and some nights during the El Nino year we had 200 elephant seal pups to feed. This required multi-gallon batches of fish-mash (secret fish milkshake), and three people to tube-feed a single elephant seal pup. One to straddle and restrain the 100+ pound pup, another to guide the tube down its throat and into the abdomen (not the lungs!), and a third to pour the fish mash into a funnel and work it down the tube. *Current pictures and videos show they’ve streamlined the tube feeding procedure so it only requires two people.*
There were some long nights, but it didn’t faze us. I loved the direct contact that came with restraining the elephant seal pups for tube feeding. When I was in a place of calm, the pup responded with trust. Experiencing that type of connection with a wild animal is everything.
You can visit The Marine Mammal Center and see the amazing work they do up close. The center is just North of San Francisco in the Marin Headlands. Check the web site for visiting hours. (PC: The Marine Mammal Center, except the photo of the sweatshirt which I took myself)
The Marine Mammal Center
2000 Bunker Road | Fort Cronkhite | Sausalito, CA 94965-2619
What’s on the menu at The Marine Mammal Center?