The barking is familiar and conjures images of a striped ball balanced precariously to the delight of the crowd. Fortunately, there is no applause to be heard or trainers in sight. Instead, 20 feet below where I am standing is a sea lion, balancing at the edge of his pool, and shaded by rows of solar panels that supply power to the facility.
I return to the classroom one floor below the viewing deck. Roughly 50 people of varying ethnicity, age, and gender are crammed in to the few rows of generic black chairs. Today is part 1 of volunteer orientation at The Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito. Many attendees have come to assist in hands-on seal rescues, imagining themselves as the heroes in the images that flash across the PowerPoint screen at the front of the room.
Moments after Scott, the constantly jovial and towering volunteer coordinator, welcomes us, Richard takes the stage. The veteran volunteer bears more than a passing resemblance to Ernest Hemingway with his frosted beard and Papa Bear demeanor. Richard walks us through the humble beginnings of the Center (three residents and a few plastic pools) to the life of a volunteer (rescuing seals, cleaning the pens, weighing out fish for feeding time). The hands-on, relatively speaking, nature of rescuing and care does appeal to me however I decide to initially assist the Center’s communications department in their publicity efforts.
The video below best illustrates the life of a seal at the Center, from rescue to release. Stay tuned for the statistics at the end and find out how you can help by volunteering, including administrative and retail assistance. It is also worth noting, as Scott and Richard repeatedly remarked, that the Center does not exist to help volunteers hug the mammals but rather to rescue, rehabilitate and release these animals with as little human imprinting as possible.