AFTER A CHILDHOOD surrounded by animals ( 11 cats and t wo tortoises) and careers in investment banking and fashion design, Sophie Guarasci has found her passion — caring for sick and injured animals. This is your third career? And my last. I’ve found what I love doing. How
did you end up here? I started volunteering here 12 years ago and I got
so into it that I did a vet tech internship. Now, I am a licensed veterinary
technician, an LV T. How did you discover the Marine Mammal Center?
I was always fascinated with marine
mammals, so I found it online. When
I came here while on vacation and saw
volunteers working here, I said, “Wow,
I really want to do that!” You lived in London then? Yes, but my husband
was offered a job in the U. S. and t wo of the places we could come were
L. A. or San Francisco and I really pushed for San Francisco because I
wanted to come to the Marine Mammal Center and volunteer. How has
the work changed since you started? Every year we get more animals.
The last three years have been particularly bad. Last year was a record
year. We had more than 1,800 animals that we brought in. We’re seeing
species that we didn’t see before, like Guadalupe fur seals coming up
from Mexico. The pattern with warming waters is having a big effect.
What are the main reasons animals come in? A lot of it is malnutrition,
starving pups. Another one is domoic acid, the same toxin that affected
the Dungeness crab. It causes brain damage in California sea lions. They
have seizures and can develop epilepsy. What else? A lot of the things we
see are human-related. We see animals that have been shot or entangled
in fishing line and gill nets. That must be hard. We see a lot of suffering.
Last year was a really difficult year because the animals that came in
were in severe condition. You have to make hard decisions. At times we
have to euthanize animals. It’s very tough to do. You can’t save them all.
We really do our best because our main goal is to release them into the
wild. Returning a wild animal to nature must be gratifying. It’s one of the
most satisfying things we do. Everyone gets quite emotional. I know I do.
I’ve seen hundreds of them released and I still get teary-eyed. m
Helping sick marine mammals return to the
wild is more than just a job. BY TIM PORTER
In Marin / CURRENTS
Sophie Guarasci, animal
husbandry manager, Marine
Mammal Center, Sausalito
ON THE JOB