Baby sea lions unable to catch fish on their own can wind up stranded on the beach. That’s when the California Wildlife Center‘s marine mammal rescue team goes into action.
“They came in really malnourished,” says veterinarian Stephany Lewis.
The most common diagnosis is what Lewis calls “failure to thrive.” The pups placed on a heated mat are severely underweight and unable to eat on their own.
The first step to recovery is to build up their weight.
“We place a tube into the stomach,” Lewis says. “And then we can give a variety of vitamins and minerals, ground-up fish that we put it in a blender just to make it easier for them to digest when they’re in such a weakened state.”
Lewis monitors their progress through frequent check-ups and blood work.
“Basically just like you would get at your doctors office,” she told CBS2’s Danielle Gersh.
Sea lions with suspected injuries can also get X-rays.
Lewis provides medical care, not only to sea lions, but also hundreds of other species that come through the California Wildlife Center in Calabasas.
Of all the STEAM disciplines — science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics — the one she needs most is “definitely” science.
“There’s a huge variety of anatomy and physiology,” she says.
While early mornings are spent with sea lions, Lewis often spends afternoons in the operating room (OR).
“We do quite a lot of the orthopedic surgery here,” she explains.
Between rescue and release, Lewis and her team can spend months with these animals. To avoid attachment, she says, “We don’t name them. We don’t talk to them like they are our pets. We care very deeply about all the animals that we see, but we know that we don’t own them.”
As Lewis finishes up a final pre-release checkup, she has this advice to aspiring veterinarians: volunteer at a clinic to see the realities of the job.
“It’s not always snuggling with animals,” she says. “You have to make a lot of difficult decisions. You may see things that are difficult to see.”
Nonetheless, for her there is no better job.
“It’s really inspiring to be surrounded by a group of people that just cares much.”
Veterinarian school can be even harder to get into than medical school, so it’s important to take math and science seriously starting in the ninth grade.