AFCEC biologist helps rehabilitate hundreds of baby sailors> Travis Air Force Base> News
JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas – When it comes to saving seals and sea lions, Christine Rodriguez has learned to do things step by step.
“These are all small steps,” said Rodriguez, an Air Force Civil Engineering Center environmental specialist and training biologist. âFrom treating illnesses and injuries to learning how to eat fish so they can survive in the wild, their rehabilitation revolves around small steps that take them from rescue to liberation. “
Rodriguez’s deep understanding of the road that brings rescued animals back to their ocean home began when she volunteered at the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, Calif., Shortly after joining the support section of the installation of Travis AFB in December 2019.
âIt is important for me to try to make the world a better place in the way that I can,â she said. “I think we can do it through our work, but we can also do it outside of our work.”
The Marine Mammal Center is a massive animal rescue and rehabilitation center with large swimming pools and state-of-the-art veterinary suites nestled in the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge. With previous experience in zoos and animal shelters, Rodriguez said the center seemed perfectly suited to him. She completed her training in January 2020, which put her under the wire before COVID-19 arrived.
âThe center stopped taking new volunteers, but there were still so many patients who needed help,â Rodriguez said. “I met a lot of animals this first season.”
Most of the animals she encountered were baby harbor seals that had been abandoned by their mothers. Typically, these âbig babiesâ arrive at the center hungry because they have not yet learned to eat fish, let alone catch it. Rodriguez would begin the step-by-step process to âstrengthenâ them and get them back to good health.
âAt first we tube feed them so they don’t starve,â she said. “Once they’re a little bit healthier, it’s time to move on to the school of fish.”
The first step in the school of fish is to introduce the young to the fish and encourage them to swallow. The volunteers then place the fish in the pool and encourage the puppies to eat the fish independently. Finally, the fish are tied on a line and quickly dragged through the water to mimic swimming fish.
âWe try to activate the instincts of the puppies so that they will follow the fish,â Rodriguez said. “When those instincts kick in, when you see that bulb go out, it’s one of the best feelings in the world.”
The excitement Rodriguez experienced during his time with his seals during the early days of the COVID pandemic translated into virtual fun with his team Travis AFB. Kirsten Christopherson, Environmental Quality Manager at Travis AFB, said she was happy her teammate was able to connect to the Marine Mammal Center during such a difficult time.
âShe brought her positive experiences to our team by sharing photos, videos and stories of her work at the center,â said Christopherson. “In the end, his stories brought our team together even though we were physically apart.”
Rodriguez completed his first season of harbor seal pups in August 2020 and returned to the center in February 2021 for a season full of new challenges. In this past season, she added a Sunday shift to her already busy Saturday schedule.
“It’s really a second job,” she said, “but they need help and I can’t turn my back on those who need it.”
Although his teams usually stick to the center and lead patient care, Rodriguez had the opportunity to assist in the release of one of his patients during the 2021 season. Toffee, a sea lion from California, arrived at the center with an injury from a shark attack. Rodriguez assisted the veterinary staff with the Toffee final release exam and was invited to attend the official sea lion shipment.
It was a cool and windy day when the team pulled out Toffee on the sand at Baker Beach in San Francisco. The joy Rodriguez felt as he watched his patient walk on the sand and return to the Pacific Ocean is hard to describe, she said, but the scene made sense of the many hours of work and the thousands of steps. needed to bring marine mammals home. .
âIt gave me a sense of pride for sure,â she said. “It reminded me that work is good, it’s important and what I’m doing is making the world a little better, one step at a time.”