The Marine Mammal Center

Across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco lies The Marine Mammal Center. It is a hospital for injured sea mammals, where they heal the animals and teach us how to help.

The staff of veterinarians, marine professionals, and volunteers rescue and rehabilitate injured animals, then return them to the sea. In addition, they educate the public on what to do if you find an injured sea animal, and other practicalities. Conducting scientific research is also on their agenda, important to advancing global ocean conservation.

Marine Mammal Center’s website — loaded with facts and information about their organization, marine mammals, and ocean conservation.

The Center is currently closed to the public due to Covid, but there are virtual tours and online programs until public gathering becomes safe again. We visited in 2018. Individuals can take a tour ($10/person), amble on their own, visit the science rooms and outdoor hospital. School and group tours are also offered.

The facility is recently built (2009), employing green technology, and sits on a picturesque mountaintop in the Marin Headlands, outside of Sausalito, California.

Whether we live by the sea or not, most of us are aware of the perils and dangers our marine mammals endure. We read about beached whales, rafts of polluting plastic bags floating in the ocean, or the latest oil tanker spills — all of which add to sea mammal distress.

Additionally, the planet’s warming temperatures associated with climate change continue to distress our ocean inhabitants in a myriad of ways. Warming water temperatures affect prey availability, can alter migration routes, increase toxic algae, and more.

Despite all these harrowing occurrences, there are ways we can all help to make the ocean a clean, safe place for thriving sea mammals.

Marine mammals are similar to humans in that they are: warm-blooded, have fur or hair, breathe air through the lungs, bear live young, and nurse their young with milk from mammary glands. The difference is that marine mammals live all or part of their life in the ocean. Their similarity to us is what attracts many people to sea mammals.

Sea mammals include: pinnipeds (seals, sea lions, fur seals and walruses), cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises), sea otters, and others.

Injured sea animals brought to the Marine Mammal Center suffer from many life-threatening conditions. Sea lions are the most commonly rescued species, often entangled in fish netting or plastic trash, or suffering from the ingestion of toxic algae.

After an animal is brought to the Center, veterinarians diagnose and treat the animal, and rehabilitation begins in these units pictured below. This is the hospital section of the Marine Mammal Center.

The Center also has science rooms with touchable sea lion fur, marine mammal skeletons and skulls, as well as videos and other interesting and educational sea information.

The northern elephant seal is the Center’s second-most commonly rescued species. The pups are often stranded; washed off shore in a storm, and separated from their mother.

These are healthy elephant seals, protected on the coast in Southern California.

Diseases, entanglement, malnutrition, toxicosis, or injury are common diagnoses. The list of ailments is a long one. For more info, visit the Center’s website page with the diagnosis for each animal they have tended.

The most important thing you can do when you find an ailing marine mammal, is not touch it. Every ocean or marine mammal organization in the world says this. Call professional sea mammal rescuers.

Sea mammal pups are often left alone, while their mother is out catching fish. Usually she comes back with fish to feed her pup. But if the pup has been removed by a well-intentioned person, the pup has been forever separated from its mother. Thus separated, the pups do not get proper weaning, and have not yet learned how to protect themselves.

For contacting a marine mammal rescuer, this link is helpful for United States citizens, but there are also numerous websites for many countries. There are websites, apps, maps, links, organizations, dedicated professionals and volunteers all across the world.

Last year a friend of mine was hiking on California’s Sonoma Coast when she and her husband came upon an emaciated unresponsive harbor seal pup on the trail. Experienced hikers and naturalists, they knew what to do. They knew not to touch the animal, and immediately called the Marine Mammal Center. A designated rescuer in the area was summoned, and came right away.

The rescuer, a volunteer, was without her partner that day, and enlisted and deputized my friends, and the three of them were able to net the pup and carry it up the embankment to her car. The rescuer then drove the pup to the hospital, the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito. My friends were rewarded with getting to name the pup, and were later able to track the pup’s health via the Marine Mammal Center’s website. It was a happy ending — the pup survived and was eventually released back into the ocean.

There are many ways to integrate ocean conservation into our lifestyle, travel plans, and home life. This website lists numerous elements of marine conservation, and organizations you can access: Marine Conservation Wikipedia.

Those adorable sea otters in the aquarium windows where we all clamor to watch, the whales that many of us are thrilled to see, hear, and photograph, the barking sea lions we can hear from a cliffside. They thrill us, warm our hearts.

Thank heaven for the professionals, students, and volunteers who have devoted their lives to protecting the sea creatures, and educating all of us on how to perpetuate sea mammal existence.

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander.

70 thoughts on “The Marine Mammal Center

  1. What great reminders, Jet, of our shared responsibilities for marine mammals. This looks like a wonderful and much-needed facility. Years ago I lived in Monterey and was always delighted to spot sea otters in the water, sometimes floating on their backs as they cracked open shells. It was also hard to miss seeing and hearing the numerous sea lions. I love the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which you featured here in several photos, because of the way they highlight the fragile and unique local ecosystem.

    • I so enjoyed hearing about your outdoor Monterey marine mammal adventures, Mike, and how wonderful to have lived there. Watching sea otters cracking open shells on their chests is such a thrill. I agree with you, the MB Aquarium is a delightful place to visit…we walk away feeling more connected to the ocean. My warmest thanks for your kind comment and visit, Mike.

  2. Good afternoon Jet. What a fantastic article. As always I learn so much from your posts. I remember the first time I saw the sea lions at Pier 39 – (wonderful) and then drove up Highway one to observe sea ions on the beaches. From a distance they looked like large rocks to me.

    I look forward to visiting the Marine Mammal Central next time I am in California, which I hope wont be too far off, meanwhile I will enjoy their website.

    I hope this finds you well and writing every day. Janet :)X

    • Great to hear about your CA sea lion experiences, Janet. It’s really fun to see both the Pier 39 rafts of the sea lions, and when they are lazing on the beach. And yes, they really do look like big rocks. I like how memorable it is to you, too. If you are ever in the Bay Area, I sincerely hope you will give me the heads-up and I will give you a world-class tour of the area. I am well and writing every day, and I send you my warmest regards and wishes for the same to you. Your visit is much appreciated.

      • I look forward so much to the day when we meet in person and to experiencing that beautiful area with you . Very glad to hear that you are writing every day. I look forward so much to your next book. Meanwhile have a lovely weekend. Janet πŸ™‚

    • Yes, the Marine Mammal Center is a wonderful place, and the work they do is very inspiring. I’m glad you enjoyed the post, Diana, and I heartily agree that there is no end to the adorability of sea otters. Thank you.

    • As always, Walt, a great gift to receive your visit and the grace of your words. And yes, what fantastic impetus the marine mammals give us for wanting to improve their conditions. My warmest thanks to you.

  3. Thank you very much Jet and Athena for your wonderful presentation of our sea life.
    The fabulous photos each with a story all it’s own, and these valuable insights into
    the present day world of the creatures that lure our hearts and minds back to memories
    of our own life perhaps? How can we be otherwise? Safety matters.

  4. Fantastic to have such a rescue center. Very good tips about what to do if one should find a sea mammal in distress. I’m thinking the same really holds true for most animals.
    I was not aware of the rescue center. When we can visit again I will be putting it on the list. Absolutely loved the photos of the elephant seals on the beach and the sea lions at Pier 39. Wonderful memories.
    Always such an uplifting and educational time on your blog. Sending very best to both you and Athena.

    • The Marine Mammal Center is off the beaten path, which is one of the things I really like, and the Marin Headlands are one of my favorite Bay Area playgrounds. Lots of people ride bikes on those roads and trails, too. You know what to do when you come to visit again, dear Sue. I’m still laying low during Covid, and I know you two are too, but one day we’ll be safely out and about again. Until then, sending lots of smiles and love your way….

    • Hi Mike, lovely to see you today. The Monterey Bay Aquarium is huge, as you guessed. It’s a major force not only for drawing and educating tourists, but also for the work and research they do contributing to ocean conservation. And to answer your question, it is both enclosed and open to the sea. It is several floors high with large and small tanks that are enclosed and under the roof, but there is also a basement level area where the ocean water washes into a display case. There is also an outdoor deck right over the ocean for visitors. The Marine Mammal Center, in contrast, is a lot smaller; but it too has indoor and outdoor access. Here’s the Monterey Bay Aquarium website link: Many thanks Mike!

  5. Dear Jet,
    thank you very much for taking us to the Marine Mammal Center. It’s very much appeciated. These marine mammals play an important part here as well. Dina and I are voluntary seal wardens. The great wildlife attraction is here the pairing season of the Grey Seals. Common seals and North Atlantic Seals we have here all the year around.
    This centre and the aquarium are really amazing. Thanks for all the infos.
    Wishing you a wonderful weekend
    The Fab Four of Cley
    πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚

    • Hello to the Fab Four. I am so very happy to learn you and Dina are voluntary seal wardens, and I have been dazzled many times by Dina’s beautiful grey seal photos of your northern coast. Thanks so much for stopping by and thank you for taking care of the seals in your area.

      • You are very welcome, dear Jet.
        Hanne-Dina loves her seals, well, she is a seal whisperer.
        Wishing you a great weekend
        The Fab Four of Cley
        πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚

  6. So glad to hear that this Marine Mammal Center exists. One of the most awful things we see on our coasts is the styrofoam pellet problem. Styrofoam blocks used for packing end up in the oceans and break up into tiny pellets. Fish, birds, and mammals all ingest them and they get plugged up with this synthetic material and die. A friend who was helping clean a west coast beach said her group of volunteers raked up piles of these pellets and got rid of them. A couple of days later they went back to work at beach cleanup again and it was as if they had never cleaned any pellets away. Big bundles of them were washed up once again. It’s a huge problem.

    • Great to hear from you, as always, Anneli. I appreciated hearing about your BC coastal clean-up experiences, and the problems on your coast with styrofoam. Styrofoam is indeed a huge problem, for reasons you cited, mostly that it doesn’t biodegrade and the animals ingest it. Here in Calif. polystyrene has been banned in many counties. I just looked it up, 121 Calif. cities and counties have banned it. Many since 2014. Food vendors and restaurants can no longer use polystyrene take-out utensils. It’s a small step, but it’s a beginning, and I am hoping there are similar laws in your area. Kudos to your friend and many thanks to you.

      • Thanks, Jet. I think a lot of the polystyrene that I’m talking about comes from ocean garbage off the west coast – some from ships, some from that huge island of garbage in the ocean. Some local too, I’m sure, but much of it comes from offshore.

  7. You have done an excellent job of promoting the centre Jet, and the importance of calling for help rather than touching distressed se mammals yourself. I love the first photo of the sea otter and the way the sea lions relax on the water is wonderful. A great post 😊

    • It was really fun to share the Marine Mammal Center with you today, Alastair, and all the other folks around us who make the ocean a safer and cleaner place. My warmest thanks for your visits and lovely comments today. Take care, my friend.

  8. So much to enjoy in this one! Along with everyone else who spots one, I think sea otters are irresistible, and I find harbour seals are a close second. Those eyes… From our home, we are lucky to hear the sea lions singing all through the night. Singing is a bit of a stretch, and I know our neighbours living closer to the sea lions don’t enjoy the sound quite as much, but it’s all part of our lovely marine ecosystem.
    Great work being done by the Marine Mammal Center, and a big thanks to them, and to you and Athena for raising awareness!
    I think I’ll take one more look at the sea otter photo before moving on…

    • It was a great joy to receive your fun and uplifting comment, pc. I agree with you, you are lucky to hear the sea lions singing through the night. How perfectly marvelous. And if your neighbors complain about that, then they should move away because you’re right, it’s a gift, and all part of your, yes, lovely marine ecosystem. Cheers to you and our planet’s marine ecosystems, my friend. Thanks so much, and I’m so glad you enjoyed the sea otter photo today.

  9. It’s not the easiest place on earth to find, but visiting the Marine Mammal Center and seeing the fine work they’re doing is definitely worth going off the beaten path!

  10. How nice to have a place like the MMC to care for the poor mammals of the sea that suffer so much by fishing nets, or leisure motor boats as well and perhaps more by toxicity, poisoning the marine life. Great place to visit if I go to California. Great post, my friend. πŸ™‚

    • Yes, we are so lucky to have the Marine Mammal Center here in No. Calif., HJ. I was buoyed to see in my research for this post that there are many similar organizations in our country and around the world who are working hard to keep our sea mammals happy. Thanks so much for your visit, always a pleasure, HJ.

    • You’re oh so right, Eliza, the work our marine conservation folks do to keep the sea clean and legal is invaluable. I’m happy you enjoyed the post and the sea otters, thank you so much.

  11. Great post. Sounds like the MMC does wonderful work. Hope we start looking at climate change and begin coming up with real solution.

    • I’m glad you enjoyed the post today, Bill. With your daily activities on the east coast waters, I am sure you are aware of all that is at work in keeping our waters healthy and clean. Many thanks, as always, for your lovely visit today.

    • It’s really wonderful to see so many capable and dedicated people devoting their time and efforts to the marine mammals. I think you would like it there, Sylvia. I walked away grateful and inspired. And it’s in such a picturesque venue with lots of open sky, fresh air, and the sea. Many thanks for your visit and warmth.

  12. fascinating and informative as always, Jet. and educational tool. i love the story about your friend. so heartwarming. thank you as always for sharing. a very delightful read. πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚

    • I’m glad you liked the story of my friends’ experience with the malnourished harbor seal, Wilma. They were so happy they could help, it was a thrill for them. My warmest thanks for your lovely visit. Sending lots of smiles your way.

    • Hi Frank, I’m happy you enjoyed the Marine Mammal Center post. The sea lion in the fourth photo is a sculpture, but it sure does look like the real thing. They have a giant life-sized sculpture of an elephant seal too. Pretty cool. Thanks so much.

  13. Very interesting. We have a similar facility near here on Jekyll Island for sea turtle rehab. It’s nice to know that there are dedicated people caring for our sea creatures.

    • I’m glad to hear of the Jekyll Island sea turtle rehab center, Nan. And I agree, it is nice to know of the dedication so many humans have to helping and rehabilitating our sea creatures. Thanks so much, dear Nan.

  14. That was a cool virtual tour, Jet! The images are wonderful. I lived in the Bay Area for 50 years and didn’t know that place was there!

    Thanks for taking me along, and sharing all those insightful facts and information.

    • I’m happy to know I introduced you to the Marine Mammal Center, Deborah, and appreciated hearing that you lived in the Bay Area all that time and never knew about it. Prior to the building of their new facility in 2009, they were set up at Fort Cronkhite, the old military installation at Rodeo Beach. It wasn’t as inviting as the new building is now. My warmest thanks for your visit and exchange.

    • It is a great pleasure and honor to share the good work of the folks at the Marine Mammal Center, Val. Thanks for your interest and visit; it’s always a joy to “see” you.

  15. Thanks for sharing the information about this center and the work they do. And explaining the threats to sea mammals (and all marine life). It is also an important reminder that people need to leave baby animals alone.

    • There has been a substantial problem with well-intentioned people picking up baby sea animals, thinking they are doing a good thing. With marine mammals it is espec. injurious because they have bodies that are designed for water and not the gravitational earthly bodies that say, a puppy, might have. So ribs get broken, etc. Clearly this is something you are familiar with, and you’re right, always a good reminder to share with people. Thanks so very much for your visit, Eilene.

    • Wonderful to have you stop by, RH, espec. since you are such an ocean aficionado. Yes, you can borrow the skeleton image with credit. Many thanks for your interest, and also for the work that you and your peers do for the ocean creatures.

  16. Ack. All of my years living in Marin, and I never visited the Marine Mammal Center. It’s on my to-do list now, for whenever (soon???) I can return to CA. When we lived in Tiburon we’d keep our bedroom windows open always so we could hear the honk (bark?) of the sea lions/seals early early in the morning. They went well with the fog horns, actually. And on my early morning walks they’d pop their heads up and greet me. Thanks for reminding me of all of this. WONDERFUL photos and information about the Center.

    • Hi Pam, so nice to hear from you, a former Marin resident. You’ll enjoy the Marine Mammal Center when you return for a visit, but you really did live it by being there on the sea and SF bay. Cheers and thanks to you. Thanks for your descriptions, much enjoyed.

  17. Appreciate you taking time to introduce the Marine Mammal Center. Thanks to the people who work so hard to save iinjured sea mammals and educate the public.

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