Saving Lives and Searching for Solutions at The Marine Mammal Center
Imagine, if you will, a state-of-the-art hospital and medical training facility. A sprawling and complex healthcare system that sees upwards of 150 patients on site during peak seasons and has supported 1,800 patients in a given year. Now, picture all those patients with fins and flippers.
That’s exactly the scene at The Marine Mammal Center, an organization with facilities in both California and the Big Island of Hawai’i. It’s there that over 24,000 marine mammals have been rescued and rehabilitated since the nonprofit opened its doors in 1975.
It’s over the course of those nearly 50 years that The Marine Mammal Center has witnessed, firsthand, the devastating impacts on the beloved wildlife they care for like sea lions, sea otters, dolphins, porpoises, whales and the endangered Hawaiian monk seal, which only has an estimated population of around 1,500 remaining in the United States.
For decades, it has been well known that many marine species are threatened “directly or indirectly by human caused deterioration of their environment.” Those sobering words laid out a simple truth reported in the 2018 article in the journal Biological Conservation. The article also noted that this diverse group of 121 recognized mammal species has been gravely affected by issues like pollution, climate change, traffic-related impacts (such as vessel strikes from jet skis or large ships) and other direct human activities like fishing.
That’s where the tireless work of The Marine Mammal Center comes in. “We are training professionals from all over the world to be in residence with us so they can learn how to do this same kind of work on coasts throughout the world,” explains Dr. Jeff Boehm, the organization’s Chief External Relations Officer.
Headquartered in Sausalito, CA, which is the site of their main hospital, this location also serves as a visitor center for the public and an education hub for students. The latter, which includes programming like their Animal Care Youth Crew and their online Ocean Advocacy Collective, is critical, Dr. Boehm notes, in teaching “the next generation of stewards to be effective, passionate individuals who are going to lean in and help us solve these problems.”
That profound connection between The Marine Mammal Center and those who love these species and want to see them thrive has been an integral part of their operations. With a staff of 1,300, nearly 1,200 of that workforce is comprised of dedicated, trusted, highly trained volunteers taking part in on-the-ground efforts, including a rescue hotline.
“We wouldn’t be able to do our work without them,” Dr. Boehm says of the volunteer team, adding, “We’re marine mammal lovers, each and every one of us. We’re serious about their individual care and well-being.”
But caring for these patients isn’t the organization’s only initiative, as they also focus on field research, conservation efforts and seeking out solutions to the various crises and situations that bring their patients to them in the first place. Putting together all the critical pieces of this puzzle is largely made possible with the help of the philanthropic sector and donors.
“A donor is attracted to our work for a myriad of reasons, and we’re so lucky that 90% of our budget is sustained by individual donations,” says Dr. Boehm, adding, “That’s an extraordinary percentage that is from raised money.” In 2022, The Marine Mammal Center reported that their donors included 750 individuals who gave through donor-advised funds (DAFs) for a total of $1.3 million.
“Any unrestricted gift to our organization is going to sustain the operations of the hospital, affording us the opportunity to hire and retain highly skilled professionals, providing us with the best equipment to get the job done…and supporting our programs,” he notes.
Dr. Boehm says that the work of his colleagues and the support of donors is what gives him optimism and hope for the future of marine mammals and the oceans they call home. “We are displaying the best of our humanity by prioritizing animal welfare.”
Photo courtesy of The Marine Mammal Center
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