Engineered Fabric Structures Help to Save Marine Mammals in the Gulf of California, Mexico

Nestled along the seaside cliffs on a remote stretch of a sand and pebble beach in the Gulf of California, a team of scientists, marine biologists, and medical specialists work around the clock to rescue and rehabilitate marine mammals.

Though there are many theories as to why dolphins and other whales strand themselves – be it human or natural interference with their internal navigation systems, changes in climate and ocean properties, illness, or a result of social cohesion - the phenomenon known as “cetacean stranding” or “beaching” results in the worldwide death of thousands of whales and dolphins a year.

In the absence of human intervention and particularly by those trained to provide medical support and marine mammal rehabilitation services, death is almost always the result of strandings. In addition to conducting scientific research, advancing marine mammal medicine, and improving species conservation and ocean health, organizations like the National Marine Mammal Foundation (NMMF) are actively supporting rescue and rehabilitation services for stranded and ailing marine mammals.

We had the opportunity to speak with Kerry Coughlin, Logistics Specialist at the National Marine Mammal Foundation about their work in the Gulf of California and the challenges associated with designing a modular structure to be used as a marine mammal rehabilitation facility. This particular conservation project required the use of a portable building that could be transported and redeployed in other areas surrounding the Gulf of California as needed.

Additional consideration was needed to find a modular building solution that could easily enclose two 40-foot-long recovery pools to house marine mammals during their rehabilitation, while providing protection from hurricane-force wind storms, high humidity, sweltering temperatures, dust, and high UV exposure. The design of the rehabilitation and medical facility also required the ability to easily incorporate and allow for the use of special water filtration systems and air conditioning units. According to Coughlin, finding such a building system was a challenge, that is until he was referred to contact Alaska Structures® by a colleague.

We “knew that [their] structures are rated to withstand the high winds, and really liked the portability of the Alaska Structures buildings.”  — Kerry Coughlin, National Marine Mammal Foundation

Working with Coughlin and the NMMF team, Alaska Structures® building specialists custom designed two 30-foot wide by 120-foot long HGX Series modular buildings. The HGX Series was selected because it is a single-arch ‘soft’ gable structure with 6-foot eaves and a peak height of 11-feet 11-inches designed to be quickly setup, easily taken down, and relocated without the use of heavy equipment, has a minimal foundation requirement that allows it to be setup on dirt, gravel, sand, concrete or asphalt, and provides a spacious free-span interior large enough to enclose and safely protect the marine mammal rehabilitation pools, equipment, and personnel.

Other custom-designed features of the National Marine Mammal Foundation rehabilitation facilities include:

  • Optional powder-coated frames for additional corrosion resistance against high humidity, sea spray, and salt air associated with being setup on or near the shores of the Gulf of California.
  • 8-foot wide by 8-foot high metal rolling door and twelve heavy-duty zipper entries for ease of ingress/egress of personnel, equipment, supplies, and rescue animals.
  • A 5-foot wide section of translucent skylight material (along the peak) to create a bright interior and reduce energy usage for lighting during the day.
  • Insulation package to maintain a consistent interior temperature with external ambient temperatures ranging from 45- to 110-degrees Fahrenheit. According to Coughlin, the insulation provides a dramatic energy-saving difference, “It’s really hot out here, and the building really takes the edge off.”
  • Vector-proof flooring system creates a “sealed” interior environment to keep out insects, pests, rodents, dirt, dust, and other potential contaminants.
  • 10-ton NTECU (non-tactical environmental control unit), 18 kW heater, HEPA filtration system, return air box, plenum, and insulated metal duct system offers interior climate controls and air distribution.

When choosing to work with Alaska Structures, Coughlin says they were confident in Alaska Structures’ proven long-lasting reliability and experience working with research and scientific organizations.

Upon delivery of their custom-designed rehabilitation facility, NMMF personnel worked with the “great instruction” from a small team of Alaska Structures specialists during their initial setup as part of a training program for future relocations. After using the rehabilitation center for nearly a year-and-a-half, the NMMF team was able to disassemble, transport, and redeploy the facility to another location with a handful of local laborers over the course of a few days, to resume operations and receive new patients.

Per Coughlin, the team is very impressed with their fabric buildings, the air conditioning and distribution system, and expertise from Alaska Structures.

For more information about the National Marine Mammal Foundation, please visit:

For more information about Alaska Structures®, please visit:

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