By Noah Haglund Herald Writer
MUKILTEO — Casey McLean and Meadow Greenwood both found a calling protecting marine mammals.
Their passion took the two women from their home state of Georgia throughout the country, up and down both coasts, to Hawaii and Alaska.
They never met, though, until arriving in Snohomish County.
Now, they’re busy building a nonprofit organization with the eventual goal of opening Washington’s first hospital dedicated solely to marine animals.
“We’re planing to start small and grow,” McLean said.
They co-founded Soundside Marinelife Rescue Center in 2011, though public outreach only started in earnest last year.
McLean, 33, serves as board president and Greenwood, 30, as executive director. Both live in Mukilteo.
Their motivation came after realizing that there are only two local facilities authorized to care for smaller marine mammals, mainly harbor seals. Those rehabilitation centers are PAWS, in Lynnwood, and Wolf Hollow, in Friday Harbor.
The relative lack of facilities came as a surprise, given the number of facilities they’ve seen in California, on the East Coast and elsewhere in the country.
“Working at a variety of places really helps to see what works and what doesn’t,” Greenwood said.
There no facilities in Washington capable of caring for larger animals, such as elephant seals.
Caring for pinnipeds — the biological suborder that includes seals and sea lions — animals would be the initial plan. Eventually, they would like to expand to sea otters, birds and even cetaceans, the order of marine mammals that includes dolphins, porpoises and whales.
They could play a role in helping wildlife survive oil spills and other disasters.
For now, they’re still searching for a facility, somewhere near the water in Snohomish County. Opening the first phase of the hospital will require raising an estimated $350,000.
“Even though we might pick a specific location, we’ll be servicing the entire state,” Greenwood said.
The regional animal stranding coordinator with the National Marine Fisheries Service cautioned that there are a very small number of marine mammals that have treatable injuries. Though they might receive 1,000 or more in a year, the vast majority of reports are for animals that are already dead, Brent Norberg said.
“We have no way of predicting what the case load would be for such a facility,” Norberg said.
Another obstacle, he said, is that few entities have the authorization or equipment to remove marine animals from the wild, especially large animals.
Despite being relatively new, Soundside has amassed a database with 300 volunteers. The roster includes not only people with backgrounds similar to the two founders, in marine biology and veterinary work, but in finance, human resources and engineering.
“We do have some people who have some marine biology backgrounds, but have trained a wide variety of people,” McLean said. “They’re easy to teach because they’re excited about it.”
Their human resources intern is Lacey Holloway, 23, of Mill Creek.
Holloway learned about the organization from a co-worker at Ivar’s in Mukilteo. She started in June, and plans to work through December.
“It was really cool because I wanted to pursue the administrative side of it, and the plus was helping animals,” Holloway said.
The internship fits with her online studies at Central Washington University.
Becky Faulk, 44, of Mukilteo, joined the organization this spring and quickly ascended to the board of directors.
“I couldn’t believe there wasn’t a hospital here already,” Faulk said. “I decided I really wanted to help out with that.”
Her day job at an electronics manufacturing company gives her experience with project coordination. Her love of the sea came from growing up on the Texas Gulf Coast.
For now, Soundside is moving ahead with their small start, with educational outreach. Last weekend, the group organized 23 volunteers for a beach cleanup at Picnic Point and picked up 250 pounds of trash.
Soundside Marinelife Rescue Center
Address: 10924 Mukilteo Speedway No. 146; Mukilteo, WA 98275