Zookeeper Julie Returns to California to Save Sea Lions

In May of 2018 I volunteered at Channel Islands Marine and Wildlife Institute (CIMWI) for 11 days. CIMWI is a part of the Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program under the direction of NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service.  They are dedicated to positively impacting conservation through marine mammal rescue, rehabilitation, research and education to promote ocean and human health.  You may remember reading about my experience last year assisting with the care of about 30 rescued sea lions and elephant seals.  This year in May CIMWI rescued 62 starving California sea lion pups and they were in a crisis situation providing medical and rehabilitation care for these animals. I was contacted to see if Como Zoo could help!  So within a few weeks, with the support of Como Friends, I was able to return to CIMWI for a week to help them with this increase of sea lions.  I again assisted with the feeding, medical treatments, and cleaning.

This time however I also got to help with rescue calls.  When people see an animal on the beach which they feel needs help they can call the CIMWI hotline.  CIMWI will then contact a volunteer to check on this call.  The first two calls I went on appeared to be two adult females not far from each other on the beach.  Both appeared to be circling and not coherent, but no signs of trauma or wounds.  It was suspected that both were suffering from domoic acid poisoning.

The week I was volunteering, CIMWI received many reports of sea lions showing signs of domoic acid toxicosis. Although the production of this neurotoxin found in algae is naturally occurring, extreme growth of this marine algae can be harmful. The marine biotoxin is passed up the food chain and thus marine mammals suffer from  Domoic Acid toxicosis.

There is no known cure for Domoic Acid (DA). Symptoms of acute DA typically subside after 72 hours as the toxin is eliminated from the body through the kidneys and excreted in the urine. Marine mammals with DA have been known to recover and successfully forage and survive in the wild. When CIMWI responds to these calls they provide signage to educate beachgoers of the situation as well as continually monitor the animal.  While putting up signage I was able to talk to several people about DA, CIMWI, Como Zoo, and sea lions.

Seeing the animals display DA symptoms was a sobering experience.  However, I feel this experience has made me better educated and aware of the reality these animals are facing. Each time I am at CIMWI I am grateful I helped an outstanding organization with their mission.

If you would like to read more about CIMWI, or follow their rescues, visit their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/CIMWI/

– Zookeeper Julie