Marine Mammal Care Center
Los Angeles

MMCC Prepares for Anticipated El Niño

Written by David Bard, Operations Director, Marine Mammal Care Center

Every season Palletat the Marine Mammal Care Center carries with it certain challenges in terms of being prepared: Will our initial fish order carry us through the bulk of the busy period, or will we need a supplemental order? Have all the maintenance and repair items been addressed, or have we not anticipated the approaching end-of-life for some key piece of equipment? Will the numbers we have targeted for intern candidates be: sufficient…? Too few to provide the needed support…? Too many to effectively manage? Will that donated clothes washer last two years… or two weeks?

Most of the time, the uncertainty hinges predominately on one factor: caseload. If we can effectively anticipate the caseload, we can ramp up our operations accordingly. Sometimes we get hit with something unexpected, such as the Unusual Mortality Event in 2013, however in many cases we can pick up on warning signs from researchers in the field, from the environment, or both.

El Niño isShade one of those predictable trends. El Niño – or more accurately, the warm phase of the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) – is a cyclical event which brings with it many climate effects, but here in southern California it is associated with warmer coastal waters. This directly affects the food source available for animals like seals and sea lions, and it has a huge, but foreseeable, impact on the number of patients admitted to MMCC.

However, El Niño carries with it other challenges, notably, the unpredictable impact that changes in the weather, such as increased rainfall, can have on our facility. This is particularly true on the heels of the extended drought we have been experiencing. Concerns might include the facility’s ability to handle excessive runoff, the potential for power outages, animal housing considerations, and of course maximizing the safety and comfort of the work environment for our personnel during what may be very inclement weather.

Here are some of the ways MMCC has been preparing for the coming season, thanks to support from FMAH, MAR3INE, LAUSD, and our donors:

Rain Cover

We contracted the installation of several framed awnings throughout the facility: two manually retractable awnings outside of our food prep and treatment rooms, respectively; and one motorized awning over our Receiving hallway. Additionally, we will install canvas cover over a portion of our outdoor staging area, and corrugated plastic “rain shields” over key portions of our outdoor hallways. Combined, this new equipment will provide protection from the elements for our personnel who need to continue feeding and treating patients, even during inclement weather.

We are also replacing any worn shade cloth over the animal enclosures, in order to provide comfortable housing for our patients.

Animal HousingHousing

Another aspect of animal housing is enclosure fixtures. We just received an initial delivery of recycled plastic lumber, which will allow us to construct durable, protective “houses” for our patients. These will not only provide shade and protection from the weather, but each house creates 16 square feet of additional haul-out space for resting. This year we will also construct scaled-down houses designed to fit our smaller enclosures.

Additionally, the plastic lumber will provide resting pallets so that our patients have the option of hauling out off of cold or wet concrete.

The eco-friendly materials used to construct the fixtures are made from recycled plastic (typically 1 gallon milk jugs). Each foot of 2x4 contains hundreds of used milk jugs, which would otherwise end up in landfills. As boards are not porous, they do not absorb water, meaning they are less prone to harboring bacteria. Additionally they do not splinter, and are less likely to cause injury. Plastic lumber also does not need to be treated or water sealed, elimin the need for harmful chemicals or paint.


We are working with LAUSD to schedule the installation of outdoor lighting fixtures over our new Receiving enclosures by the end of the year. Construction of these enclosures was completed in January 2015, but lighting installation was postponed due to our heavy caseload.

We also contracted, for the first time in MMCC history, to guarantee a generator onsite in the event of an extended power outage.


With much anticipated rain over the coming months, MMCC is evaluating our ability to handle runoff and drainage needs. We have scheduled the re-routing of one of the main building’s downspouts, to direct rainwater away from our animal care staging area. We are also evaluating our ground-level treatment drains and scheduling repairs as Sandbagsneeded.

For any unforeseen potential flooding, LAUSD has delivered sandbags to be used for redirecting/blocking of water.

As you can see, a “slow” season at MMCC is really no such thing. We always have many maintenance and upgrade projects, that keep staff and volunteers busy and – more importantly – keep the facility prepared for the challenges of the coming season.
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