Seaside Aquarium Leads Marine Mammal Stranding Network Locally

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Seal pups are often left on the beach to rest while their mothers hunt for fish. The Marine Mammal Stranding Network works to post educational signs around seal pups so they are not touched, held, or harassed by well-meaning citizens. Photo credit: Tiffany Boothe

Mollie Schmidt has worked for the Seaside Aquarium for over 11 years. Seaside Aquarium boasts indigenous sea life, interactive displays and friendly staff that can answer questions about the local marine ecosystem. Building upon its 80 year legacy as a family-owned aquarium, it is the hub for marine animal rescue, response and education. Aquarium staff work with local, state and federal agencies to provide regional coverage and local expertise.

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Seaside local Mollie Schmidt digs for kelp ‘hold-fasts’ or root systems that provide habitat for numerous sponges, sea starts and other small animals. Kelp leaves are also harvested to feed the Seaside Aquarium’s sea urchins. Photo credit: Tiffany Boothe.

Schmidt has worked her way up from her an entry level job as a high school student in 2006 to being a key individual responsible for animal care, facility maintenance and specimen collection. Part of her ever-evolving duties include working with Aquarium management team Keith Chandler and Tiffany Boothe, who coordinate the Northern Oregon/Southern Washington Marine Mammal Stranding Network.

“I was able to assist with a sea turtle recovery out of Crescent Beach last year and helped collect samples from a gray whale that washed up last January,” explains Schmidt. “I remember at one point during the gray whale project the only way to get a sample of the lung was to stand inside the animal. It was a ‘what am I doing?’ moment.”

The regional network, headed by Seaside Aquarium Manager Chandler, has coordinated with Portland State University for over 20 years to implement the Federal Program. The partnership works together to assimilate and analyze collected samples, data and information from stranded cetaceans (whales, dolphins, porpoises) and pinnipeds (seals, sea lions and walruses) in a region that extends from northern Long Beach, east up the Columbia River to Bonneville Damn and south into Tillamook County.

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A healthy sea lion scoots back into the ocean. Photo credit: Tiffany Boothe

“I’ve done a lot of necropsies,” says Schmidt. “It’s so fascinating that it is easy to forget that you are looking through an animal to collect samples or to determine how it died.”

“One of my favorite parts of working at the Aquarium is that I am able to do different things every day,” Schmidt continues. “There are always daily tasks, but you never know when you get to help with something incredible.”

More than necropsies and data collection, Schmidt also works on specimen collection to provide new displays and also adequate nutrition to marine life. “We often collect kelp to feed our urchins, but, when possible, we collect the kelp root systems or ‘hold-fasts.’ There are hold-fast clusters that are the size of my head, and when you take them apart you can find barnacles, interesting sponges and small animals, like baby urchins and sea stars. It is incredibly fun!”

seaside aquarium
With an expansive region to cover for both the wildlife center and the Marine Mammal Stranding Network, the Seaside Aquarium is calling for volunteers. Volunteers would be responsible for responding to calls, posting signage and taking photo documentation. Photo credit: Tiffany Boothe

As a local source of marine life expertise, Seaside Aquarium also functions as a collection point for injured birds. Joining efforts with the rehabilitation center Wildlife Center of the North Coast, the Seaside Aquarium is able to take injured sea birds and transport them safely to the Wildlife Center outside of Astoria. “It is easier for people to find the Aquarium,” says Chandler. “It saves the Wildlife Center from traveling too much.”

With an expansive region to cover for both the Wildlife Center and the Marine Mammal Stranding Network, the Seaside Aquarium is calling for volunteers. “We are able to provide basic training, materials and some supplies,” explains Chandler. “If the opportunity presents itself, volunteers may also have a chance to participate in a necropsy.”

Volunteers are required to provide their own camera and are encouraged to call Chandler or Boothe at 503-738-6211 for more information.

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