Education and Outreach Coordinator at The Marine Mammal Care Center
The Marine Mammal Care Center at Fort MacArthur in San Pedro has been helping sick and injured marine mammals since 1992. Kristi Fera joined MMCC as a volunteer in February 2015, doing auxiliary medicals records. She was hired in May 2015 as the education and outreach coordinator, a position that puts her in charge of conducting and scheduling field trips and classroom presentations at the center. She also organizes community outreach events and schedules volunteers as docents, gift shop volunteers and outreach assistance.
Sea: What is the primary function of MMCC?
Fera: MMCC is a hospital for sick and injured marine mammals that are stranded along the Los Angeles County coastline. Located in San Pedro, MMCC primarily treats and releases rescued California sea lions, northern elephant seals, Pacific harbor seals and northern fur seals.
Have you seen a spike in sick pinnipeds recently admitted to your facility?
We have seen an increase in stranded seals and sea lions along our coast for the past two years. It has been attributed to warmer coastal waters making it difficult for the animals to find food.
What is normal behavior or seals and sea lions, and what behavior should raise a red flag?
Sea lions, especially, are very playful and active. They easily get on rocks, beaches and even docks. Coming onto land is very normal for both seals and sea lions and only should cause a concern when they look sick or injured. Noticeable red flags would be fishing line or gill net entanglements — basically, anything that is wrapped around the animal would be a concern. Other red flags could be very emaciated, skinny and lethargic animals. A healthy animal will move away from a person when approached; a sick animal many times will not move away, as it has no energy to do so.
What are a couple of distinguishing characteristics that boaters can look for to determine whether they’re looking at a seal or sea lion?
The easiest and simplest answer is to look at the ears. If you see “ear flaps,” it probably is a California sea lion. If the animal has no visible ear flaps, it is most likely a seal. The different ways these two species move is also a indicator. California sea lions mimic an actual “walk” on their flippers, while seals “scoot” much like a caterpillar.
What should boaters do when a sea lion or seal boards their vessel while offshore?
It is important to know that these are wild animals and they do bite. If an animal boards a boat, more than likely it is just there to rest. If they are out foraging for food and are tired, they will look for any place to rest. If there is no beach in sight, they may opt for a boat. Be very careful of them and make sure all kids and pets are away from the animal. Do not touch the animal. Leave it to rest, and it will probably jump back into the water on its own.
What laws protecting pinnipeds should boaters be most aware of?
Seals and sea lions are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, Amended 1994. The MMPA protects all marine mammals, including cetaceans (whales, dolphins, and porpoises), pinnipeds (seals and sea lions), sirenians (manatees and dugongs), sea otters, and polar bears within the waters of the United States. Harming or harassing these animals can result in a fine up to $10,000.
What can a boater do to discourage any unwanted visitors on their vessel?
While it is hard to completely avoid sea lions and seals in the open water, it is best to stay away from them when you do see them. Keep the doors on the transom closed to access.
How can boaters respect pinnipeds while at sea and at dock?
Respect that they are wild animals that belong in our ocean. Do not feed them out in the open water or at a dock or harbor. Doing so jeopardizes their ability to hunt and forage for their own food. Be aware of others who may be mistreating any seal or sea lion, healthy or injured, and report them to the proper authorities. Know the number of the rescue agency in your area that you would call should you see an animal in need of help. But keep in mind that at-sea rescues are difficult, and if an animal is in the water swimming it most likely is OK.