Saving Seals in Sausalito

I was lucky enough to be able to visit  The Marine Mammal Center headquarters on a recent trip to California, USA. Located just across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco, the Marine Mammal Center’s mission is to “advance global ocean conservation through marine mammal rescue and rehabilitation, scientific research, and education.”

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The Marine Mammal Center

Getting out there and back was a bit of an adventure in itself. I had rented a car, but didn’t have the e-pass set-up to cross the Golden Gate Bridge tolls, and I decided to go out in the afternoon following a conference, figuring I had plenty of time before they closed at 4pm.

To save money, I drove to the bridge and parked on a side street nearby. It was after 2pm, and I was humming and hawing about whether or not I should still go -I needed to get a Lyft, and it was more than 20 minutes from my location to the center. I decided to go for it – I’d make it work, even with a low cell phone battery!

Rolling hills in Sausalito, California, on the way to out to the Center

Getting my Lyft to the center was easy – and my driver was amazing! He took me down the scenic route to get there, which winds along the side of the mountain and the coast, and told me a bit about the history of the area. Once arriving at the center, I had a little over an hour to spend there. Entrance is free, but I paid $9 USD for a 40-minute audio tour and learned about the work the center does to both rescue and rehab marine mammals, as well as to educate the public on ocean conservation and conduct scientific research.

Like an hospital, every new patient that comes into the center gets ‘charted’ and the vets record their names, date admitted, where they were found stranded, and the diagnosis, among other stats. You can see an up-to-date chart of their current patients here

After the tour, and watching the recovering seal pups have their afternoon snooze in the sun, I suddenly realised I was in the middle of nowhere with almost no cell service and an equal amount of battery left. I did the classic “stand on tiptoes at the edge of the hill with arms stretched high” to get a single bar of signal strength, and SOMEHOW managed to get a Lyft to come pick me up. Waiting for the app to connect me to a driver, I suddenly realized – what if no one accepts the ride? Luckily, someone did, and the awesome staff in the gift shop let me plug in my phone while I waited.

I waited a while and, as staff were walking out and heading home for the day, I decided to head down through the parking lot and meet the driver at the entrance, instead of waiting at the building. Good thing I did – I rounded the corner to discover the gate had been closed, and there was my ride, waiting. He told me later he tried to call to let me know he had arrived, and had no signal. Good thing I decided to wander down when I did! Sometimes you just gotta go with your hunch. Gut Feelings are a real thing.


This Lyft driver was as great as the first one. I had planned to walk across the Bridge to get back to my car (I felt like it was something a tourist in San Fran needed to do) and had entered in a random location on the map that was close to the bridge. He asked why I was heading there, I told him my plans, and he actually dropped me off at a lookout point just up a hill, where I had a great view of the bridge before heading back.

A little stressful, but in the end it all worked out.

But enough about me – more about the center!

Mike – a succesful rescue and rehab patient. Image from

The Marine Mammal Centre was started by three local citizens in 1975 – Lloyd Smalley, Pat Arrigoni and Paul Maxwell. Located in a remote area in the beautiful mountains of Sausalito (hence my having no signal), the non-profit has rescued more than 20,000 marine mammals since it’s opening.  But the center is much more than a rescue and rehab center for the animals that find themselves (briefly) at home there. Researchers there study the animals that come in for overall health and common illnesses and publish roughly 10 articles a year in peer-reviewed science journals. According to their website, their “core research includes studying domoic acid poisoning in sea lions, bacterial infections such as leptospirosis, and even cancer, which is found in approximately 17% of adult sea lions that undergo post mortem at [the] hospital.”

On their website, the center lists the most common reasons marine mammals end up in their care:

In 2008, a 51-foot-long sperm whale washed ashore. While investigating its death, scientists at the Marine Mammal Center discovered it had died from ingesting 450 pounds of ghost nets and rope.

By doing this they contribute not only to the immediate health and well-being of the seals and sea lions that come into the hospital, but also to the state of the oceans as a whole. With marine mammals playing such a large role in the health of the ocean, their well being is critical to the state of the eco-system as a whole. Their educational programs teach roughly 30,000 people (kids and adults) about environmental responsibility and inspire ocean conservation.

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A billboard hanging at the Marine Mammal Center. Unfortunately, plastics and garbage are not the only threats to the mammals – humans can affect them in more direct ways as well, through boat collisions or even deliberate attacks.

The Marine Mammal Center is the only authorized organization to treat marine mammals along a 600 mile stretch of northern California coastline, and treats up to 800 animals each year, almost half of which recover to the point of being able to be released back into the wild.

Image via

Over the past 30 years, the number of marine mammals – including elephant seals, harbour seals, monk seals, sea lions, whales, porpoises, and more – turning up injured or ill has been on a steady incline. 85% of the centers funding to help these animals comes from private sources.  You can help by becoming a member, adopting a seal, volunteering at a fundraising event, become a corporate sponsor, attend an event (such as a release day), or visit this page  to find out about more ways to get involved.

Would you consider visiting an animal rescue center on your next vacation? Have you already? Share your stories with me in the comments!

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