WSU Beach Watchers to Restore Sea Lion
Salty Rises Thanks to Beach Watchers

Salty as he was found at Tillicum Beach.

Dem bones gonna rise again! At least that's the vision of the 22 WSU Beach Watchers in the class of 2002.

Photo fo Beach Watchers pulling Salty up the beach

However, the traditional folk song takes on a new twist when the WSU Beach Watchers connect flipper bones to arm bones, and more flipper bones to leg bones, and all of those bones to the back bones and tail bones, and then move on to rib bones, shoulder bones and scull. With careful connection, 243 bones will rise and revive Salty the Sea Lion. WSU Beach Watchers retrieved a male California Sea Lion from Tillicum Beach on April 14, 2002, after homeowners informed Sue Murphy, director of Pilchuck Wildlife Center, of the dead sea lion found on the beach. Although the class was still deciding on a project, Dave Baumchen, co-chair of the class project, took the lead to retrieve the sea lion in hopes of persuading the group to reconstruct the skeleton and use it as an educational display at Cama Beach State Park. Because of the Marine Mammals Protection Act, Murphy obtained the necessary permit from National Marine Fisheries Service and coordinated the retrieval.

"At the beginning of Beach Watchers training, Fred Terrell, WSU Beach Watcher from Whidbey Island, told us that sooner or later you will find your niche for volunteering. I have found mine and hope everyone is as excited as I am about restoring a sea mammal skeleton. It will be the focal point of the environmental educational display that Cama Beach State Park is trying to achieve. It will also be a major educational draw for Camano Island State Parks, " said Baumchen.

Jeff Wheeler, Camano Island State Parks area manager and a 2002 WSU Beach Watcher graduate, also sees the project's educational value. "The park's main goal is environmental education and being able to have displays does this. The parks and the Beach Watchers have the same goals to educate both children and adults." Wheeler said he has several possible placement options for Salty such as the lodge, park office, dining area, or marine lab, and that displaying Salty will probably be linked with an already stuffed beaver and seal pup as well as a newly acquired river otter corpse that will be stuffed.

Photo of Beach Watchers in gas masks "Although the Marine Mammal Protection Act, enacted in 1972, marked a critical turning point to stop the slaughter and safeguard these fascinating animals for the future, unfortunately, abuse still continues," said Baumchen. "Hopefully, Salty can help bring awareness and understanding to encourage people to appreciate our marine mammals." Although the group had not officially decided to use the sea lion as a project, 600-pound Salty could not be put on hold. After his retrieval from the beach and after becoming very smelly in a tarp, his eight and a half feet of rotting flesh needed to be dealt with before any bones would be rising to make an educational display.

So nearly a week after Salty's retrieval, a team of nine Beach Watchers gathered at Cama Beach State Park to rid Salty of his blubber. After a full day of gutting and butchering led by Mike Murphy and supervised for safety by Sue Murphy, both from Pilchuck Wildlife Center, the bones were labeled and sorted by sections and then boiled for two days to loosen the meat still clinging to the bones.

After boiling, the bones soaked for six days in ammonia or detergent with an enzyme to remove the fatty tissue and grease. This was followed by a 3 percent hydrogen peroxide bleaching for five days. Then they were soaked in water for two weeks followed by some scrubbing and another two weeks in a water soak, according to Terry Isaacson, co-chair of the class project.

With the soaking completed, the bones went into a convection oven for drying. Three hours at 150 degrees sufficed to produce dazzling white bones without a bit of meat, marrow or grease. Then a fragmented Salty was stored into carefully labeled compartments of bones waiting for assembly, which began in the fall of 2002. The sea lion educational display was eventually picked as the class project that the members have approximately one year to complete. "From my perspective, it was chosen because of the educational opportunities with the sea mammal and incorporating it with the other sea life, such as eel grass and forage fish, " said Isaacson.

While Salty's bones begin to reunite in a cabin at Cama Beach State Park, WSU Beach Watchers continue working in committees to get the educational project accomplished. These committees include assembly, display and education, fund raising, communications, documentation, and scheduling, besides the already successful naming committee. Despite the many steps of the endeavor, and at times rather smelly steps, Beach Watchers remain enthusiastic about their efforts. "It's amazing, an incredible thing," sad Liz Thomas, documentation committee chair. "You go to a museum and see this all the time, and here I am. How many people ever get to do something like this in their lifetimes?"

Island County/WSU Beach Watchers are trained volunteers dedicated to protecting and preserving the fragile environment of Island County and Puget Sound waters through education and public awareness. The class of 2002 has displayed some of Salty's bones at the Stanwood/Camano Fair. The graduates of the first class of Island County/WSU Beach Watchers trained on Camano Island are serious about their endeavor. "This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Salty will give us an opportunity to extend marine life to school children and visitors to the island on an ongoing basis," said Isaacson. "Salty will continue talking long after we're gone."

Salty's future seems obvious. As the traditional folk song declares in its chorus,

"I knowed it, knowed it,
Indeed I knowed it, brother,
I knowed it, wheee!
Dem bones gonna rise again."

last updated May 2007

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