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A Rescue Center Where the Rehabbing Is on View - The New York Times

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Tuesday, December 8, 2009
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A Rescue Center Where the Rehabbing Is on View
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By LAURA NOVAK
Published: Wednesday, March 31, 2004
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SAUSALITO, Calif.
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ITS buildings are homely and its location remote, but the Marine
Mammal Center has created a niche among the natural history
museums and aquariums that draw huge numbers of tourists every
year.
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Rather than exhibiting sea creatures, the center rescues and
rehabilitates injured or ill pinnipeds and cetaceans ? sea lions, seals,
otters, dolphins and whales ? and then releases them. More than
half of the pinnipeds and cetaceans treated in the United States are
cared for at this hospital and research center, hidden in the
headlands of Marin County north of San Francisco.
Unlike other organizations that rescue stranded wildlife, this one straddles an unusual
line, having moved beyond its humanitarian mission to embrace the role of natural
history museum. Visitors are welcome, but they should not expect the usual amenities.
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"It's a live animal we're teaching with," the executive director, Barbara J. Griffin, said.
"We're not a display facility in the same sense that a zoo or aquarium would be but we
do have the animals that are in treatment and you can see them because they are in open
pens."
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The center is at the end of a long winding road that separates the trendy town of
Sausalito from the jagged Pacific coast. It is a pinpoint in the 75,000-acre Golden Gate
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Despite its reputation as a world-class research institute, the center is short on services
and fancy architecture. Signs are minimal. There is no parking lot or food service. The
surfer's paradise of Rodeo Beach lies just down the bumpy road beyond other nonprofit
agencies housed in old government barracks.
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The center itself is a series of ramshackle buildings on top of obsolete Nike missile silos,
part of a defense system built in the 1950's. Its charm emanates not only from its quirky
location but from the policy of putting the needs of animals before the convenience of
humans.
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A Rescue Center Where the Rehabbing Is on View - The New York Times

12/8/09 1:08 PM

"We do invite people to come here, but right now we don't really have that
"We do invite people to come here, but right now we don't really have that thing that
they can come in and see what we do," said Cynthia Schramm, the director of marketing,
pointing out the chain link pens and placards with glossy photos of marine mammals
that make up the entrance.
"The experience is kind of `on your own,' " she said. That is especially true for people
who may have stumbled on the center while hiking or visiting the beach.
This may be one reason why a visitor will not be jostled by crowds while trying to view a
sick mammal. On any given day, the only hindrance to parking might be a yellow school
bus attempting a turnaround. The center says it attracts 30,000 visitors a year and
estimates that 17,000 schoolchildren visit each year. An additional 15,000 students are
reached by the "whale bus," which transports artifacts to schools.
What visitors see in the open pens is as random and varied as nature itself. A sea lion
ready to be released might be lounging with its a sea lion buddies. Or a harbor seal with
sutures and an intravenous feeding pole might be resisting medication offered by a
volunteer.
Some 800 volunteers act as docents, medical technicians and rescuers on round-the-
clock shifts. To distract students on school tours from noisily interacting with recovering
animals, volunteers fill them in on what the staff veterinarians and visiting scientists
have learned about the various species.
A healthy looking sea lion, for instance, might actually be dozing on phenobarbital to
halt seizures from poisoning by domoic acid, a toxin produced in ocean algae blooms
that are thought to be stimulated by agricultural runoff. The toxin sickens and kills
marine life. Various mammals suffer from viruses that can cause sudden death from
stress even though they might appear on the mend. Baby harbor seals whose mothers
leave them to forage for food are frequently "rescued" from beaches by people who
ignore signs to leave them alone. Many mammals suffer gunshot wounds.
"Eighteen percent of our animals are here because of some direct human cause," the
education director, Ann Bauer, said.
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A Rescue Center Where the Rehabbing Is on View - The New York Times

12/8/09 1:08 PM