Fifteen new marine mammal rehabilitation pools are under construction at Sarvey Wildlife Care Center in Washington. They will be the state’s first saltwater pools and will double, potentially even triple, the capacity to rehabilitate marine mammals.

“Some animals that needed rehabilitation weren’t rehabilitated," said Dr. Lesanna Lahner. "They were either left on the beach or humanely euthanized because there was no space for them in a rehabilitation facility."

Harbor seals have the greatest need for more hospital space. Right now, PAWS in Lynnwood is the only facility in Washington that can take and rehabilitate marine mammals. And with all the need, they can run out of space.

“We also need space for harbor porpoise, stellar sea lions, and endangered Guadalupe fur seals,” Lahner said.

Dr. Lahner founded the new marine mammal rescue and rehab group, SR3. While they prepare for a more permanent facility, Sarvey will house marine mammals with immediate needs.

“At this point we’ve just been clearing some small shrubs and bushes, making room here so these trees can come down,” said Sarvey Director Suzanne West.

The pools will be modeled after those at the Marine Mammal Rescue facility in Vancouver, B.C. Lahner hopes they reduce the hard decisions she and others have to make when unable to care for sick marine mammals who need help.

“So they’ll be big pools, either 4-ft deep and 6-ft deep. That’s really pretty deep. And either 8-foot wide or 20-ft wide. So the 20-ft pool is important for something like porpoises that need that space before they’re released,” Lahner said.

The project is a collaboration with Sarvey SR3, UW, Northwest Indian College, NOAA and WDSW.

The pools should be complete for the next pup season, which starts in the spring.

It’s not just about returning marine life to the wild, Lahner said. It’s also about what they can teach us before they go.

“Number one, we learn from each patient. It’s like a window into the health of the marine environment. We can see, do they have toxins in their body? Are they accumulating plastics or other things that can affect us as well?”

Get more information on the Sealife website.

Video from PAWS shows a rehabilitated seal being released into the wild on Wednesday.

PAWS released the following statement to KING about their work rehabbing marine mammals:

“The PAWS Wildlife Center collaborates with NOAA Fisheries on Marine Mammal Rehabilitation needs in WA State and has done so for 21 years, serving well over 160 Harbor Seals. PAWS provides a fully staffed and experienced wildlife veterinary hospital and a rehabilitation staff devoted to wildlife medicine, rehabilitation, and release.

In fact today, a few hours ago, I had the pleasure of releasing one of our summer seal pups that has been here at PAWS. The pup is now a healthy juvenile Harbor Seal and dove right back into the Puget Sound waters –his home. This seal came to PAWS with multiple puncture wounds that were treated by our veterinary staff, while our rehabilitation team served his other needs. The seal pup healed, grew and matured at PAWS, succeeded at feeding on live fish, and was definitely eager to be released today. PAWS is pleased to also collaborate with many rehabilitators across the country, and for Harbor Seals, we work with the West Coast Marine Mammal Stranding Network to ensure WA State Harbor Seals receive excellent and long-term veterinary and rehabilitative care in a timely manner, all working towards the ultimate goal of returning these animals back to the wild where they belong.”