Spring is the time of year the Marine Mammal Center kicks into high gear, rescuing stranded baby seals and sea lions and educating the public on what to do when encountering a pup in need. Deirdre Denmon, the center’s Youth Crew leader, is one of 60 staff members who, along the shore from Mendocino to San Luis Obispo, work alongside 1,200 volunteers, ages 15 to 97, to not only help animals in need but also conduct research on their (and our) coastal environment. The message is simple: if you spot a stranded marine mammal, make sure you stand at least 50 feet away and call the 24-hour rescue hotline at 415.289.SEAL. The center warns to never attempt to rescue a marine mammal, as our best intentions can inadvertently cause a mother and baby to become separated.
1. When did you become interested in conservation?
I grew up in the North Bay, close to the ocean, state parks and other open spaces, so I have always had a strong affinity for our environment and conservation efforts. My passion kicked into high gear after I graduated from college and was fortunate to participate in a year of service with AmeriCorps. My internship focused on conservation stewardship and education at the Marine Mammal Center. It gave me the opportunity to get my feet wet in the work of conservation, marine biology and veterinary science within the education department at the center.
2. What is Youth Crew?
Youth Crew is an eight-month service learning program that introduces high school students to the center’s mission and the importance of volunteerism. Students not only have the opportunity to volunteer on an animal care crew and in the education department, but they also get access to workshops, trainings and field trips to learn about career fields in marine science and environmental education. Typically, we accept 25 to 30 students (15 to 18 years old) into Youth Crew every year — it is a very competitive program. All students who are accepted into the program receive training and get the opportunity to help rehabilitate our marine mammal patients and teach the public about the center. This year, we received over 80 applications and were able to accept 33 students, from Placer and Marin to Sonoma and Santa Clara counties, representing over 30 different high schools, into the 2017 program.
3. What are the most common marine mammals found here?
In Marin County, residents will most commonly see California sea lions, northern elephant seals and Pacific harbor seals at area beaches. These are also the three most commonly rescued patients here at the center, but we also frequently rescue the endangered Guadalupe fur seal and the threatened northern fur seal.
4. Should people be concerned about getting bitten?
We encourage people to observe and enjoy wild marine mammals from a safe distance; however, it is also illegal to approach, feed or harass them. Seals and sea lions are very curious and they commonly approach people. If you are approached by a seal or sea lion, we recommend that you do not interact with the animal and that you immediately remove yourself from the area to prevent the animal from becoming habituated to humans. That is the best way to keep these animals wild and safe from negative human interactions.
5. What do you think is the piece of info most kids take away from the program?
All of the students who graduate and become an alumni of the Youth Crew program take away a deeper understanding of what it means to be an ocean steward empowering local and global communities. I love seeing the drive each student has after completing the program. They always share how this program has helped develop and solidify their future career goals.
6. What do you hope they learn in the program?
I hope all of our students in the Youth Crew program learn valuable career skills for their future endeavors, gain a deeper passion for ocean conservation and remain connected to the Marine Mammal Center’s unique community.
7. On your day off what might you be doing?
During my days off, I enjoy being around my family and hanging out with my friends. I am also an avid tap dancer; I have been tap-dancing since I was 5 years old.