By Monica Petrova, Special to the Independent
A crowd of spectators swarmed the sands of Treasure Island Beach on Sunday, patiently awaiting the guests of honor. Two California seals named Atlas and Solstice were to be released back into the wild after spending almost four months in rehab at Laguna Beach’s Pacific Marine Mammal Center. Anticipation filled the air.
The seal pup given the name Atlas was found last December at nearby Table Rock Beach, weighing 22 pounds with a wound on his snout and right front flipper, said Michele Hunter, the center’s director of animal care. Solstice came ashore in San Clemente the month before, also undersized.
The malnourished pups were tube fed for two weeks, initially with an electrolyte formula rather than their usual diet, she said. Fish was introduced when they could tolerate solids.
Pups weaning from their mothers in winter and spring are at their most vulnerable, in danger of malnourishment and dehydration, she said. It’s also the center’s busiest period.
Depending on their level of starvation, recuperating animals’ feeding schedules vary from every three hours to three times a day. Once patients are capable of diving independently and maintaining their body weight, the center’s staff deems them fit for returning to the ocean. Each seal is tagged with a number registered at PMMC and the National Marine Fisheries Service.
Solstice’s was 66, and Atlas received 80.
The crowd, staff and volunteers couldn’t stop smiling with excitement as they awaited the arrival of the 10-month-old seals.
Atlas was the first to emerge from the portable cage. He didn’t care about the crowd. All he could see was the ocean and off he went. Solstice hesitated, perhaps scared by the people surrounding him. But finally he too emerged and happily hopped into the sea.
Elation swept over spectators, who kept gazing at the ocean in hopes of seeing the seals resurface. It was a beautiful day to see Atlas and Solstice go back home.