By Jennifer Henion
Triplicate staff writer
She used to train them to balance balls on their snouts and bow for applause. Now Lanny Hall works hard to keep sea lions wild while they are cared for at the Northcoast Marine Mammal Center.
Hall is the new executive director of the Crescent City marine mammal center, known for its volunteer efforts to treat ill sea lions and other marine creatures and return them to the wild.
She was hired last month by the center's board of directors to bring focus and professional organization to the facility, which has historically been staffed by a band of unpaid community helpers.
"We're going to really change how volunteers are organized. We're going to do a lot more training and scheduling. It just helps a lot to have a central person here all the time to make the phone calls and keep track of grants and donations," Hall said.
She is the first full-time director the marine mammal center has had in its 11-year existence.
Hall's hiring isn't the only big news at the facility.
The Northcoast Marine Mammal Center has also received a $100,000 grant. The money is a John H. Prescott grant, funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Hall moved here from Newport, Ore., where she worked as a marine biologist specializing in marine mammals.
Once a zookeeper, she trained sea lions to entertain and educate the public.
Her mission now is to train the public not to interfere in the lives of wild sea lions and to medically rehabilitate those found sick or injured in both Del Norte and Humboldt counties.
Though sea lions and elephant seals are not endangered in fact, the local population is about as big as nature can handle the mammal center exists mainly as a service to the public, Hall said.
"It's mostly about the public. The public has a very hard time seeing an animal die on the beach. Pups especially are so cute with their velvet coats and huge black eyes and whimpering noises," Hall said.
A majority of the sea lion patients at the Beachfront Park facility are, in fact, pups left by their mothers on the beach while the mother was hunting to feed the pup.
"People assume they are abandoned and take them home. Some of them actually try to feed them themselves with baby formula or tuna sandwiches and that's the thing that that just wrecks their digestive system," said Hall.
"We wouldn't have half the pups in here that we do if people didn't pick them up," she added.
The number of animals admitted to the center has been on the rise the last three years.
About 17 sea lions were admitted for the entire year in 2000. So far this year, the center has taken in 30 sea lions and elephant seals. More than half of the animals come from Humboldt County.
The $100,000 grant is helping Hall and the volunteers handle the increased volume, however.
They've purchased a room-sized freezer to replace the small cooler the center used to store its sea lion food. An X-ray machine and anesthesiology machine have also been ordered to augment the surgery room that has, in the past, relied on donations.
And, instead of relying on volunteers who have large vehicles to carry the huge rescue pens, the center can now buy its own vehicle.
In the meantime, Hall and the regular volunteers she said she treasures, are focusing on restoring the 11-year old building to its original organized state.
The center does need more volunteers, she said, and not just people who want to care for the animals.
"Not only do we need volunteers to help us rescue, but to paint and do small electrical repairs. A lot of it is, we need people with a lot of different areas of expertise," she said.