One elephant seal at a time, senior Asia Lie helps rehabilitate marine life in the Bay Area

April 22, 2020

“I’ll never really forget the first time I restrained an elephant seal…I’ll always remember its eyes because it was wondering why it was there. You’re inches away from these animals and helping them get back into the wild…You don’t see that everyday,” senior Asia Lie said. 

Saving an elephant seal is an experience Lie commonly faces having volunteered at the Marine Mammal Center for two and half years now. 

Catch, rehabilitate and release are all objectives that the Marine Mammal Center, located in the Marin Headlands, stands by. Since its establishment in 1973, the Marine Mammal Center has played a vital role in improving the Bay Area’s ocean life while also becoming the world’s largest rehabilitation hospital for marine mammals. 

Every year, the center rescues 600 to 800 marine mammals along the coast of California. In addition to having rehabilitation programs, the center also allows thousands of volunteers to perform hands-on work, which could be working with sick and injured animals or something as simple as cleaning dishes. Volunteer work is just one aspect of the Marine Mammal Center. It’s also full of research facilities that apply lab studies to the mammals receiving care at their hospitals. While Lie doesn’t take on the same responsibilities as the researching staff, she has made working there every week a priority in her life.

Asia had her eyes set on the center from a young age. It was just a matter of time before she was old enough to become a volunteer and pursue her love for biology and animals. 

Bill Hunnewell
Asia spends most of her time examining patients and making formulas for the animals to eat.

“As a kid, I visited [the Marine Mammal Center] a lot and did a third-grade research project about it. I got really excited because these people got to interact with animals that you don’t get to really interact with in real life,” Asia said. 

After an extensive application and interview process, Asia joined the Youth Crew Mentor Program where she gets the opportunity to volunteer with other kids her age. With the time she has there, she’s able to help rehabilitate animals and participate in animal husbandry tasks like cleaning, scribing observations, weighing patients and looking after animals in their pens. Along with younger volunteers, the center allows people ages 15 and up to volunteer, prompting Asia’s father Marc Lie to join as well. Marc and Asia have both been working there for a two and half years and Marc appreciates the time they have together at the center.  

“Normally [teenagers] say, ‘Whatever, dad. Go off and do your own thing,’ so this forced us to do one thing [volunteer] on one day, and it’s been great in terms of [getting closer with Asia],” Marc said. 

The Marine Mammal Center continues to teach both Marc and Asia valuable lessons, not only about biology, but about working collaboratively as well. Student supervisor Giselle Viltz has been working at the center for over 10 years and is responsible for overseeing various crews and guiding members through their volunteer work. Being one of the five supervisors on site, she’s in charge of training people, animal logistics and organizing everything in between. Amidst all of the chaos that takes place at the center, Viltz always appreciates the dynamic duo between Marc and Asia.  

Bill Hunnewell
The Marine Mammal Center takes in hundreds of injured elephant seals with the hopes of rehabilitating and releasing them only a few months later

“Asia and her dad have such a good relationship…He also is very sweet and protective…He’s a good teacher too, so it’s been good in that sense because Marc can take her under his wing and teach her stuff as well. It’s just very heartwarming for us because they have such a good relationship and having them together on crew is a pleasure,” Viltz said. 

Even though they carpool to the center together and work on the same crew, it hasn’t stopped Asia from developing new skills on her own. Having worked with Asia since she started as a sophomore, Viltz can clearly see how she’s grown into a self-sufficient individual. 

“I think she’s really blossomed. When she first started here, she was a little more on the shy side…I think the biggest thing is she’s just gotten much more independent. It’s gotten to the point where we assign her to train the other Youth Crew coming in and other volunteers,” Viltz said. 

Bill Hunnewell
Working at the Marine Mammal Center requires a lot of hands on work

The center has allowed Asia to step out of her comfort zone and embrace certain strengths within her team. From this boost of confidence, Asia became an expert on marine mammals and gained a new outlook on the environment. The center focuses on the effect harmful human actions have on the environment and how marine mammals wind up in rehabilitation centers as a result. Since the majority of people don’t spend time caring for injured marine mammals, it can be challenging to fully understand how detrimental the implications of our actions are. Marc, who has also become more aware of the ocean’s current state since starting his volunteer work, believes it’s important to recognize the source of all these issues. 

“I think people need to know that everything is kind of connected. You might think you don’t care about [the environment] and you don’t need to, but the reason why [he’s] sick and we are looking after him is because there is some consequence out there that put him here,” Marc said.

For Asia, she feels that her time at the center is not only rewarding, but has also made her more environmentally conscious. While the problems at hand may not be solved by tomorrow, Asia recognizes that her contributions help the ocean each day she’s there. 

“Going to the Marine Mammal Center every week has reinforced that I really can make a difference. I am able to spread the knowledge and experience I know… It helped me recognize that I am really an integral part of a mission. Even if it’s just one mission, the more people involved, the more impact it will have in the future,” Asia said.

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