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Marine Mammal Center's dreams come true

By Mark Prado, IJ reporter

Marin Independent Journal

6th November 2004

Volunteer Alyssa Stark uses a protective board
to coerce a California sea lion into the pool
during feeding time yesterday at the Marine Mammal Center
IJ photo/Jeff Vendsel

Modern medical facilities for animals, in-ground pools and a new education centre are part of a multimillion-dollar revamp of the Marine Mammal Center that received key federal approval this week.
The U.S. Department of the Interior announced the $14.5 million project in the Marin Headlands near Fort Cronkhite complies with National Environmental Policy Act standards and can move forward.

"We are terrifically happy that our environmental approvals are in place and we are looking forward to groundbreaking Oct. 1 of 2005," said Pamela Westfall-Bochte, director of development at the centre.

The non-profit centre kicked off a public campaign two years ago and had raised $12.2 million of the $14.5 million needed for the capital improvements, which include upgrades to holding pools, an improved lab and a learning centre for visitors.

The existing facility is spread among five separate buildings, and the new construction will make better use of the space, Westfall-Bochte said.

"It's going to be better, not bigger," she said. "We are basically restructuring what is there to better service the animals and to ensure animal safety. There will also be a better education component for the public and a classroom for kids. Now they have to stand in the rain."

The projected cost could rise because of the increasing cost of steel and plastic, Westfall-Bochte said.

"The people of Marin have been great in giving and supporting this project," she said.

The Marin Community Foundation contributed $1 million early in the campaign toward construction of the Marine Science Community Education Center. Some 35,000 schoolchildren visit the site annually.

The new education centre is one aspect of what will be a significant upgrade of the aging facilities at the centre. Some of the buildings date to when the military was in the area from the 1940s through the early 1970s. Some offices are in old shipping containers.

Staying within its existing site, some building plans include:

An improved on-site laboratory to hasten diagnosis and treatment for animals.

Specially designed facilities for the medical needs of stranded dolphins, porpoises and sea otters, a threatened species.

Better-designed animal quarters and in-ground pools to reduce stress on the animals and allow for faster recovery.

Structures that allow protection for the animals from visitors, while allowing people to gain a better understanding of the centre’s work.

Construction of the new facilities would take 18 to 24 months.

The centre and its San Luis Obispo triage centre treat California sea lions, elephant seals, Guadalupe fur seals, Steller sea lions, California sea otters, dolphins and porpoises. The centre responded to widespread problems in recent years including algae poisonings of sea lions and mass strandings caused by El Nio.

Since its founding in 1975, the centre has rescued more than 10,000 animals along 600 miles of Northern and Central California coastline. The rescues represent more than half of all live stranded marine mammals in the United States, officials said.

The centre is on land managed by the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and it took written comment on the environmental review aspects of the plan.

"That is the main environmental approval," said Michael Feinstein, National Park Service spokesman. "This is part of the park master plan for Fort Cronkhite."

Contact Mark Prado via e-mail at