Tuesday, April 24, 2007

seal updates

So I've had a couple of elephant seal rescues lately but I didn't take any photos because the first animal, Matti, was just pretty depressing (major pyrothorax, since been euthanized) and the second animal, Charlene, came in too late in the day to get good shots. The ellies all look pretty much the same, anyway, so I figured it wasn't worth getting up at 8 am to go take pictures. I was, however, secretly hoping that Charlene's name wouldn't work out, since she came in on 4/20. I offered a backup name (Chronic) that may or may not have made it through the censors...

What was worth waking up early for was my trip to Sausalito on Easter Sunday. I stepped out of my box a bit and went to work crew with a volunteer I've never traveled with before. It was her first visit to the center, which can be rather intimidating without an escort. We missed a lot of action on the home front (another friend actually called and begged me to turn around, they were having that crazy of a rescue day), but we got plenty of action of our own.

We started working in the harbor hospital where we found that Melissa's doing great. She's actually featured on the website as the first harbor of the year. I got some decent photos of her (including the one above) but since the most interesting ones were taken with my disposable camera, they're pretty grainy. She's up to 30 pounds now and is even eating whole fish. Luka is also doing alright. His bite wounds (from the abusive adult harbors at Pirate's Cove) are still healing (and some have abscessed) and he's been a little pukey, but he's still alive and kicking.

By the way, on the same web page, if you scroll down to fur seals and click on "check out new footage of our fur seal release" you can actually see Famous being released (at the very end of the video). Also, Shawna is on that page and she has also recently been released. Check out how fat she got and how sad her scars still look. Also, if you're watching the release video, you can see how small and crowded and scary looking the boat will be when I go on it this Saturday to release the remaining fur seals. I'm not really sure why I am going (all my fur seals have been released and I have a morbid fear of the ocean) but it somehow seems important to travel 27 miles out to sea through the so-called Red Triangle. At least I should have the nausea covered. I've got prescription and over the counter meds as well as those acupressure bracelets.

Anyway, while I was working up at the center, I did get to work with my most recent fur seals, Woodco and Monahan. They were still pretty fresh off the beach and Monahan hadn't yet aborted her toxic, domoic acid filled fetus, so they weren't being very photogenic. Friends who just returned from Sausalito tonight report that the two of them are now eating fish and looking great. Equally energetic are the scrawny sea lions I had recently, Spanokopita and Baba Ghanoush.

I also got this cute shot of Doughie, peeking at me from the pool.

I think the highlight of my trip, however, was getting to see Astro, the steller sea lion we've raised from a pup. He was picked up in Santa Cruz last June when he was just a baby. And although he is now over 200 pounds, he's still being bottle fed. He's actually due to be released this Wednesday (geez, that's tomorrow) as he is willing to eat live fish (the final exam for release) and he's at the age when he would naturally be weaned from mom. I must say I'm particularly proud of this close up (below) that I got when Astro was watching me restrain his neighbor, Woodco.

In any event, it was refreshing to make my semi-annual pilgrimage to Sausalito. I skipped it last year and had forgotten how satisfying it can be to work a ten hour day surrounded by poop and dead fish. It was a well-timed reminder of why I do what I do. I needed that reminder as things have been a bit rocky locally lately. We recently got our first ever paid staff person on site. Not a big deal, except for years I was actually aspiring to be that paid staff person (I had the grass roots support of my peers and many encouraging words from my would-be boss). Obviously, it didn't pan out. I grew accustomed to my life of sloth and they changed the requirements of the position so I was no longer eligible.

I am sure it's all for the better, but it's been a lot like getting a new roommate. Those who know me are groaning, because I am so not good with roommates... In fact, during a recent roommate type discussion, another seal friend of mine came up with a great new old tape for me to stew on. She attempted to shut down my opinion by asking me (and my friend who shares my opinion), "What happened to you? When I met you two, you used to be such nice girls." Apparently nice girls don't have strong opinions.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

rough week for me and OC

I've been meaning to be a better blogger, but it's been a long week for me and my troubled cat, OC. It all started innocently enough with a Monday morning trip to the vet for vaccine boosters. I took both cats and decided I'd also have their blood checked (to confirm that I have not been poisoning them with their recently recalled canned food). The black one, being a ball of muscle and attitude, would not allow the vet access to his veins without opening some of her own. Rather than sedate him, we decided we'd wait and only test his blood if OC's came up bad.

OC, being the sweet cat he is, willingly received his vaccine, gave his blood and, being the generous sort, he even volunteered a urine sample. He did seem a tad stressed about the whole situation, but I didn't think much of it and I foolishly left with my increasingly lethargic cat. While driving home I was talking on the phone (to, of course, my sister) when I looked down and said, "I think OC is dead. I'll have to call you back."

I know what you are thinking. I should not be talking on my cell phone while driving. You're right. I'm pretty sure it's even against the law these days - though I don't think they're due to enforce it until June. And frankly, I am more dangerous when attempting to use my hands free device than when I'm just driving one handed... And, yes, I've heard that a cell phone user is as dangerous as a driver who would blow a .08. But then again, isn't .08 the legal limit and therefore it is legal to be that distracted / disabled? Not advisable, obviously, but not illegal.

But I digress. Really, what was upsetting was not my telephone intoxication but the fact that my cat did appear very much dead. Eyes open and glazed over, mouth open and gums pale, not responsive to sound or touch. I've seen it a lot in the seal business. My orange cat looked dead.

Luckily, OC was not dead. He was merely having a near death experience due to an adverse reaction to his vaccine. I rousted him to consciousness with a bit of stern shaking and he later required a steroid injection (Dexamethasone - which I've used before on two seals, both of which have died). I am disappointed that my spider senses did not see the incident coming. He had vomited in his carrier before we left the vet clinic which should have been a big old red flag. But though I like to think I am full of veterinary information (being related to a vet and giving injections to seals), I really only play one on TV. And so I did not know that the vomit was an omen that my cat would soon crash.

So OC spent the next 24 hours recovering from his ordeal. He slept a lot and didn't even protest that I would not allow him outside. The next morning he was perkier but I was a mess. I wanted to get the results of his blood test as soon as possible but after 3 phone calls (the first at 8:30 am) and 12 hours, I still had no news from my vet. Well, I guess he isn't my vet. He's my cats' vet. But I pay the bills, so I guess that makes him mine. Come to think of it, as I am just a parasite princess, you'd have to say that Erik technically pays the bills so I guess that means I was waiting for a call from his vet. In any event, I was both annoyed and relieved to finally hear from Erik's vet at 8:45 pm that I had not poisoned my cats with bad juju from China.

Wednesday was the calm before the storm. OC looked fine and resumed his normal life outside. Blackie was riding high as the night before he had brought in the biggest bird yet to be killed by my fiercely competitive cats. And Erik and I were relieved that the spicy Thai take out was gone. Now, I love my Thai take out, but even though it is difficult for me to ingest (and for Erik to digest), I am too ashamed to admit it is actually too hot. It took so long to convince the Thai food man to make Thai food this hot for such a white girl that I am reluctant to give him any hint that he has gone too far. Actually, that's not true. I have given him a hint. I used to order it "very, very spicy" at which point he would laugh with recognition and say, "ah, very, very spicy." Now I have made a point of using only one "very." In any event, the Thai food is still quite yummy, it just hurts a little.

Thursday afternoon started the next round of drama. OC came in and indicated he was having a bit of trouble emptying his colon. From the bulging of his butt, I'd say he'd been trying for a while. We were lucky to get a late afternoon vet appointment which got things moving just enough to keep us out of the ER overnight. Despite my sister's encouragement to continue the treatment at home (all I'd need, she said, were some rubber gloves, a plastic tube, and some warm water in a syringe...), I decided instead to let OC spend all day Friday back in the hospital being thoroughly evacuated. Of course again I exposed my lack of expertise as I did not stop feeding him in anticipation of his sedation. It only dawned on me at 7 am that perhaps his stomach should be empty. Personally, I was operating on the potty training theory (food in = poop out) and the food is love theory (food = love).

In any event, in between seal transports and seal rescues (both elephant seals, nothing very notable), I finally got my empty cat back. OC was so grateful to be home that he gave me tons of kisses. I learned later that his affection was most likely just a side effect of the pain med he was on, but whatever. I felt loved. Actually, I felt a bit dirty and molested. (He had accosted me on the way out of the shower so his shedding fur was sticking to my once clean places and some of his kisses were not in the most appropriate locations...)

Saturday he finally seemed all the way fine. It was a beautiful day so I let him outside while I cleaned the house, opening all the windows to release the stress filled air. Today, since it's raining, he is hanging out with me, his body guard. Meanwhile, I'm continuing to audition replacement canned foods. Today's sample was expensive (the label says "elite") and disgusting looking (actual circular bone looking tuna pieces) and so, of course, the black cat loved it. OC, who could use a little liquid in his diet, couldn't care less. He's all about the dry food.

Personally, I am all about the breakfast as I can't believe I am up this early (OC was my alarm clock, protesting the wetness of his fur) so I'm off to toast some waffles and scramble some eggs...

Monday, April 16, 2007

13 things I love about Sadie

It's hard to believe that it's been thirteen years since I found myself in a SF delivery room witnessing the birth of my second ever niece. I actually missed most of the birth, as it was my job to wander the halls entertaining her 2 year old sister, Zoe. The wandering went pretty well, as I recall, except for the time we accidentally took the elevator down to the morgue. In any event, we made it back to the right floor just in time to be welcomed in moments after the blessed event. As sleep deprived as the rest of the delivery crew, I remember only snippets. I recall in particular that I was forbidden by my 2 year old charge to handle the squirmy little infant. And of course I can't forget that while I was cooing over her sister, poor Zoe slipped and bonked her head on the bathroom floor.

In the thirteen years that have passed, I have had the pleasure of watching both girls grow into amazing women. Though I now officially embarrass them (usually unintentionally), they tolerate my company more than most adults. I treasure the times I get to spend with them. I am especially grateful for the very weird year of their mother's breast cancer. It was such a horrible time for all, but being together made it wonderful. I was sometimes the third parent, sometimes the third sister, sometimes just the whiny pain in the ass with the driver's license. Like all families, we are now permanently bound together by sharing an intimate knowledge of the smell of each other's farts.

In any case, today I celebrate the little girl, the second born, who took us all by surprise. And so, for your enjoyment, here are 13 reasons I love Sadie:

  1. She has no price. She can't be bought. I once offered her $50 to eat a lollipop with a bug inside and she flat out refused. She will not be exploited for my entertainment.
  2. She likes oversized things like fake money, big pencils, and large calculators. She helped me plan my future roadside attraction (which I will run when Erik makes me move to Texas) - Big Y Small - where everything is either gigantic or minuscule.
  3. She's got groove. During the cancer, she spent many hours trying to teach me to dance. And I often saw her in my rear view mirror, caught up in a particularly good song.
  4. She took very good care of her treasured pet duck, Curry. Curry and I had a somewhat adversarial relationship (he bit me and I cursed him) and Sadie didn't hate me for hating him. She did say, however, that if I were responsible for his death (something I sometimes threatened and instantly regretted the day he did pass on) that I would no longer be her favorite anti.
  5. She's smart, freakishly smart with numbers, in fact. She likes to catch the clock when it's 11:11 and she gets a kick out of noticing patterns on the odometer.
  6. She can lie. This is a skill I don't (usually) have. She once convinced me that her sister has received a necklace as a gift from a cute boy. Zoe, of course, insisted it was from her best friend. Though I had no reason to doubt either one of them, I believed Sadie. When the truth came out, I vowed to get revenge with another harmless recreational lie. Sadie was disappointed when I successfully lied but left her on the hook for less than a minute.
  7. She likes teen stuff like makeup and manicures, Project Runway and America's Next Top Model and, of course, Wilmer Valderama.
  8. She's got the gift of touch. She can cuddle her way into the most crowded bed and she holds her mother hostage with a half completed head massage. If she isn't a masseuse at some point in her life, it will be a crime.
  9. She is a loyal friend. She's a secret keeper and a safe place.
  10. She likes her boobs. Everyone should like their boobs.
  11. She's funny. When she saw a car with the vanity plate, "Go Dog Go," she pulled along side and asked them, "Do you like my hat?"
  12. She's not afraid to speak her mind, even to adults. She plays sports (especially softball - which I call Cryptonite because it weakens my superpowers) and in the course of her career she's had to deal with some difficult political situations. She has never shied away from sharing her thoughts with her coach.
  13. When she's mad, she calls her sister Doughie.
I wish she were older because there are so many other wonderful things to share. She's photogenic. She's creative. She wants to be tall. She's a good sport and she loves her mother dearly. She's nice to little kids and people who are different. She refuses to describe people by their race. She's got style. She's not afraid to be herself.

Happy Birthday, Sadie.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

fun with fur seals

Meet Monahan, the more photogenic of two Northern Fur Seals that my Friday crew and I collected off the beaches. Apparently she's an adult female (all white whiskers - who knew?). She couldn't have stranded closer to our triage facility if she tried, which was very thoughtful of her as we had two other animals coming in at the same time (another fur seal from the north and a big sea lion from the south).

Since we had such a busy day (and because the folks in Sausalito were tied up with big sea lions all their own), little Spanokopita had to spend a second night with us. Not a problem for me, as I found him quite adorable. I was, however, disheartened to see him growing more lethargic despite his improved nutrition. After a number of tubings and subcutaneous fluids, he finally offered a urine sample. I suspect it will reveal an exposure to the neurotoxic Domoic Acid (from the harmful algae bloom Pseudo-nitzschia) as this is one of the most common reasons we get clusters of sea lions and fur seals (and because water trackers have confirmed a recent bloom). Despite my suspicions of their condition (further supported by Spanokopita's sporting the trademark brown slobber), none of my patients had full blown seizures.

And because I truly do love him more, here's a picture of Woodco, the fur seal I netted myself. I was especially thrilled that Woodco was the first seal rescued in my recently refurbished net. It didn't matter that he, too, was in his happy place and hardly put up a fight. My heart was still racing and my adrenaline flowing. I got to feel like a hero without having to do anything extraordinary.

By the way, notice the lovely purple stripe on his back? Not my finest moment. Though I am aware that fur seals depend on the quality of their fur for their warmth, and while I am aware that we take extreme precautions not to compromise their coat in any way, and though we could easily tell the two seals apart as they differed significantly in size, I held poor Woodco and Monahan down while my friend marked them with different colored grease markers. This is a common practice for elephant seals who share pens, so we did it out of routine more than anything else. Clearly we didn't really think through the whole fur thing... Anyway, it gave us another opportunity to learn and another reason to admire our seal boss as she very diplomatically educated us without making us feel stupid. Of course, we still felt stupid and scolded ourselves all day, but at least she didn't make us feel that way.

Anyway, I am actually off to see her in person soon. I will be following my recent patients up to Sausalito and working a couple of shifts there. I leave in, oh, less than 8 hours and having finally finished packing, I am off to bed. Too bad that means I have no time to tell you of today's rescue, Soup. I tried not to rescue Soup (having put him on watch Friday), but he just wouldn't go away. But at least you can enjoy his picture.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

saucy spanokopita

Today brought another sea lion pup I didn't directly rescue. Spanokopita came from the same area (picked up by our friends with State Parks) and weighs a full 4.4 kg more than Baba Ghanoush. He's still pretty skinny, but not so bad I couldn't share a full body shot.

Sea lions are squirrelly and bitey and fast, and so I've been delighted to get a sprinkling of them in the middle of all the elephant seals. Ellies are the ideal training models so I've had to share my toys. Coaching is satisfying in its own way, but handling is what it's all about. With the sea lions, I have no qualms about keeping all the action to myself.

So, it looks like I'm going to get at least one extra feeding with Spanokopita. His morning transport was postponed as the folks in Sausalito have their hands full (releasing one adult male sea lion and bringing in another). If tomorrow is as crazy as Wednesday was, he may even have to spend two nights here in Morro Bay.

And after my two days in charge are over, I'll be packing up and transporting myself to the Sausalito to work a couple days on crew. I can hardly wait to see all my patients in person again.

I'd write longer, but I guess I'm off to bed. Another early morning awaits.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

baby baba ghanoush

Okay, so I probly shouldn't even count this rescue as mine. I wasn't even on the beach where he stranded. I was miles away, on a different beach, picking up a different species with the help of the fire department and the harbor patrol. I merely picked him up from the ranger station after his capture and helped get him fed. But this cute little sea lion weaner, Baba Ghanoush, is way more photogenic than the two elephant seals I did wrangle personally today so I couldn't resist claiming him as my own.

At just 13 kg, he is the picture of emaciation. I've intentionally spared you the full body shot. His saggy baggy skin is just so sad. I figure I'll get better pictures in the morning. (I had to brighten this one up in Photoshop. No flash photography is allowed and I took this just before his 9 pm feed.) But I decided to go with this one as I really wanted to get something posted.

The last two seal days I've had were much more discouraging and not as visually appealing. First I got to work with the otter we didn't want to pick up. She'd been steadily declining and regularly drawing a crowd despite, or perhaps because of, my signs. She was so very cute but, since she died on transport, I was having trouble putting a happy spin on her tale. At least that means she was a good pick up...

Then the next night, last night, I worked with my second ever adult harbor seal. Adult harbors would sooner die than strand so, not surprisingly, both died within hours of rescue. My first adult harbor was years ago and she died right after we tubed her (presumably from the fishing gear in her digestive track). Yesterday's seal had a much more obvious ailment - a gigantic shark bite that removed most of his femur. It isn't often when you're actually glad to see an animal die but this guy needed to go. I actually didn't work with him when he came in for which, I think, I am quite grateful. I was just on clean up detail, after finding him dead at 11 pm when it was time for more pain meds. I got some really great gruesome shots of the wound but somehow I don't think you need to see them. At least the seal got some good drugs before he passed. The other blessing is that he was a boy. This means we don't have to keep an eye out for a newly orphaned pup.

And so, even without these two dismal days to contrast, today was a good day. The coordination alone was a challenge. All three seals were called in within 10 minutes of each other and they were each in distinctly different directions. Amazingly, not only did we recruit enough help (including one guy who had to sit on the beach and wait for us for two hours), we also had a chance to get lunch (take out) and stop and pee (the real miracle).

Tomorrow will be an early morning with three mouths to feed, two pens to clean, and a transport to prepare so I guess I'm off to bed.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

pictures don't do him justice

So yesterday, on my last of three seal days in a row, I did get a chance to return to the green elephant seal with my camera in hand. Looks like he'll be sticking around and molting (a process that takes a couple weeks) and so the people of Avila will have to learn to live with him. This photo, disappointingly, doesn't quite capture his amazing greenness. I could have pumped it up in Photoshop but then that would be cheating, wouldn't it? (Not that I'm above cheating, mind you. I'm all for it in board games and team sports though I think it's all wrong in relationships and risky in taxes.)

Perhaps a close up does a better job? In any case, at least there you can see the barnacles he's collected. And you can see the patchiness of his soon to be molted fur. Anyway, he was the closest thing I got to seal action yesterday. I hung signs at a popular harbor seal haul out and followed up on a couple of long shots (taking long walks on empty beaches), but that was it.

Of course the animal that was on my mind most was Thornberry, my first fur seal pup from last year, as he was being released at the Farallone Islands yesterday. Did I ever mention that he turned out to be a hybrid (half fur seal, half sea lion)? Pretty exciting to me, anyway. Looking back, I do recall noticing that my second and third fur seals looked distinctly different from my first, but I had no idea it was all about the DNA.

So as a refresher, here's Thornberry (on the left, half sea lion) and Cranny (below, all fur seal). I see it in their profiles, their coloration, and even the shape of Thornberry's body. Their differences are also likely to be more than skin deep. The sea lion in Thornberry will make him thigmotactic (liking to cuddle), but the fur seals around him aren't into that sort of thing.

After whistfully imaging my baby's first day back in the big ocean, I learned this morning that I get to go on the last of three fur seal releases. On April 28th I will discover if I suffer from motion sickness while traversing shark infested waters. Even if I weren't familiar with its ominous nickname (the Red Triangle), we TMMC volunteers have had first hand confirmation about the sharks there. During one ill-fated release a couple of years ago, volunteers saw Swissy meet her untimely demise at the water's surface. Very very ugly for all involved. I do think someone got pictures of the event, though you can imagine we're in no hurry to publicize them. Ever since, we don't go to the Farralones during peak shark season (August). Still, it's a valuable release spot for animals who are likely to be habituated to humans. After spending most of five months in rehab (basically the whole of their lives), these fur seals need a little distance from our world. Anyway, I'm not going to let a little vomit and predation keep me from having a good time. It's never stopped me before...