Chlorine Attack Sickens Sea Lions

Sea lion pups in recovery at the Pacific Marine Mammal Center.
Sea lion pups in recovery at the Pacific Marine Mammal Center.

Local and federal investigators suspect  someone tainted saltwater pools holding recuperating sea lions at the Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Canyon last week and are seeking the public’s help to find the culprits.

This is the first known animal assault at the center or elsewhere in the region, according to federal agent David Reilly, of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Long Beach, who is assisting with the investigation.

A substance believed to be chlorine, like that used in swimming pools, injured the animals, who suffered varying degrees of corneal ulcerations due to the contamination.

The assailants could face criminal charges for violating the Federal Marine Mammal Protection Act and state animal cruelty prohibitions, Sgt. Tim Kleiser said in a statement.

Police say a large amount of chlorine was mixed in the water filtration system of one pool at the center, the county’s only marine mammal rescue center. Currently, 125 mostly malnourished creatures are in the center’s care, Keith Matassa, the center’s executive director, said Tuesday.

The contamination affected 17 healthy sea lions, which were due to be released the following day. Eight have recuperated but seven continue to receive treatment from a staff veterinarian, which involves flushing their eyes with fresh water, Matassa said.

The sea lions eyes are swollen shut or clouded by the contamination, which Matassa said smelled like the chemicals commonly used to kill bacteria and algae in public pools.

Chlorine is actually contained in swimming pool chemicals such as calcium or sodium hypochlorite, says the Environmental Protection Agency’s website.

Detectives have interviewed several people having access to the facility and are reviewing surveillance footage. Police are eager to speaking with anyone who observed anything unusual outside of the center Monday, April 27, between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. Tuesday, April 28. They are urged to call Detectives David Gensemer or Abe Ocampo at 949 497-0377 or the NOAA hotline 800 853-1964.


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