Monday, May 6, 2019

Stefanie Worwag and Mario Rivera: new, old hands for the Marine Mammal Stranding Network

Throughout the 2019 GiveBIG campaign, we are showcasing the Port Townsend Marine Science Center’s long-standing commitment to the Marine Mammal Stranding Network. Plan your donation now -- we have a dollar-for-dollar matching fund of $8,000 -- to support this crucial program that is so vital to the well-being of the marine mammals that make the Salish Sea their home.

Stefanie Worwag and Mario Rivera started volunteering for the Port Townsend Marine Science Center’s Marine Mammal Stranding Network just over a year ago. Stefanie is a veterinarian and Mario is a retired police officer and retired military. 

“What drew us to the Marine Mammal Stranding Network is the strong desire to help animals,” said Mario, who has also volunteered for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Mario Rivera and Stefanie Worwag, right, with the northern elephant seal stranding team.
“We both have a great passion for animals, and the aspiration to learn more about marine life.”

Because Mario and Stefanie are new to the program this season, they have only responded to five or six stranding call-outs. A typical call-out can last anywhere from 1 ½ to 4 hours depending on the situation and location.

“Something we also do before responding is to do a quick research of the type of animal we’re going encounter, to have a working knowledge of the animal,” said Mario.

Despite their relative lack of experience with marine mammals, they have jumped in with both feet.

“On two call-outs, Stefanie assisted with performing necropsies on two mammals, one being a [northern] elephant seal and the other a Steller sea lion,” recalled Mario, who added that the necropsy of the sea lion was a memorable event for Stefanie because they determined the actual cause of death.

“A Ratfish spine had lodged in the animal’s esophagus and migrated into a large vessel in its chest,” said Mario. “He bled out and was septic.”

An unforgettable experience for Mario was the stranded elephant seal.

The team of PTMSC staff and volunteers examine the
stranded northern elephant seal. Staff photo.
“It was huge, about 14 feet long and it weighed approximately 4000 pounds!” Mario exclaimed.
The project took on added importance because the PTMSC was allowed to preserve the full skeleton as a tool for future study, education and display. 

Above: Mario in action, left; Stefanie, right, checking on the decomposition 
with with PTMSC's Citizen Science Coordinator Betsy Carlson. Staff photos.

Besides the MMSN program, Stefanie and Mario volunteer for home crew (tank cleaning), beach surveys and public events. On Sunday, April 21, they staffed a PTMSC table at the Finnriver Earth Day Expo, where community organizations showcased their programs in support of environmental protection and stewardship. About 40 people stopped by to learn more about upcoming programs, volunteering and membership. 

Staffing the PTMSC table at the 2019 Finnriver Earth Day Expo.
The PTMSC is very grateful for Mario’s and Stefanie’s support and the ways in which they have rolled up their sleeves – literally – as citizen scientists and volunteers.

“Volunteering for the MMSN is a wonderful opportunity to learn about the marine mammals in this area and possibly be a crucial link in the survivability of the animals,” said Mario. “It is a very rewarding experience.”

To learn more about the Marine Mammal Stranding Network and other volunteer opportunities at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center, visit

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