Onset woman helps rehabilitate seals, sea turtles at National Marine Life Center

Oct 6, 2017

Margot Madden spent her week with a few celebrities… well, seal-ebrities. Sealonardo DiCaprio and Giseal Bundchen are the young seals currently being rehabilitated at the National Marine Life Center in Bourne.

Madden, the animal care and volunteer manager, lives in Onset and has worked for the center for three years since getting her degree in marine science. The National Marine Life Center is a non-profit animal hospital and education and research center. They rehabilitate and release stranded marine mammals and sea turtles.

The center gets animals from Maine to Long Island, including from Wareham. Seals from Onset are sometimes brought to the center and the National Marine Life Center cares for around 30 sea turtles and 30 seals each year.

“Nine out of 10 times, the seal injuries we see are human interaction related,” Madden said. Seals entangled in litter, injured by dogs or struck by ships often become guests at the center.

Madden said people should always clean up trash from the beach, leash dogs and avoid having balloon releases, which are harmful to sea creatures. Boaters should turn off their engine when they spot an animal, as propeller wounds are common in sea creatures.

During the fall, it's common for the center to get more sea turtles and seals that have just been weaned and have a low immune system. Fall and winter have the highest mortality for seals, Madden said.

The center is able to accommodate all the animals in-house and is generally always full to capacity, though right now only two seals are there. The sea turtles and seals have a diet of frozen, restaurant quality herring and squid, along with vitamins and supplements. The center has 15,000 gallons of saltwater pumped in from the canal every few days, which is then filtered, purified and temperature-controlled.

When they’re healthy and big enough, the seals are released at Scusset Beach State Reservation. The sea turtles are released wherever the water temperature is at least 70 degrees. Follow National Marine Life Center on Facebook for information about animals and upcoming releases, which are open to the public. The next seal release will be in a couple weeks, Madden said.

The center boasts a portable ultrasound unit, X-ray machine, machines to test blood samples and a marine mammal parasitology lab- the only one in the country. Parasites are sent from all over the country to be tested by the center's parasite technician.

The parasitology lab gives information on how climate change and oil spills impact the environment, Madden said.

“The ocean tells us a lot through the cases that we get here,” she said. Influenza rarely seen in seals has been found through the lab, as have ticks on seals, another uncommon occurrence.

“A lot of new things are keeping us on our toes,” Madden said.

The center has four full-time staff members and around 75 weekly volunteers, many from Wareham and Onset, Madden said.

“I love the community within the community we have here,” Madden said. “It’s great watching the interns go off to vet school or to see it spark other volunteers to do a career change.”

Volunteers must work at least four hours each week. The next volunteer training will be Nov 11. Madden encourages people to get involved and said it’s an easy process to become an intern or volunteer.

Events that offer education on marine life animals are held periodically throughout the year. The next event at the center is Spooky Splash on Oct. 30 from 3:30 to 7:30 p.m. This event is one of only a handful of times each year the public can have a tour of the Marine Animal Hospital and meet seal and turtle patients. Crafts, games and refreshments will also be offered and admission is $5 a person.

The National Marine Life Center also has an Amazon wishlist for those who want to donate.