Rehabilitated sea lions released at Aliso Beach

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Sea lions rehabilitated by Pacific Marine Mammal Center bound toward the surf at Aliso Beach on July 17. Photo by Tasmin McGill

By Tasmin McGill, Special to the Independent

Laguna Beach residents and Pacific Marine Mammal Center donors gathered to witness five rehabilitated sea lions reenter the ocean at Aliso Beach on July 17.

Either recovering from dehydration, malnourishment, or other complications, sea lions Chassis, Flint, Yoshi, Porito, and Trifecta were monitored in Laguna Canyon and nursed back to health over the last few months.

“Most of our patients are very young animals. A lot of the patients that come through are the babies and once they stop nursing from mom, they might have some issues figuring out how to fend for themselves in the wild,” Deming said.

Sea lion moms nurse their pups ashore for nine to 12 months before they are weaned and must learn to fend for themselves. However, some sea lion pups have difficulty catching food and find themselves trapped on land. Sea lion pups typically arrive at PMMC within the year’s first quarter.

“They all give birth around the same time of year, so all the sea lions are approximately the same age and they all get weaned around the same time,” Deming said.

Of the sea lions recently rescued, three were treated for dehydration and malnutrition. For the California sea lions released Sunday, they all gained between 30 and 60 pounds to hit the target goal weight, between 78 to 104 pounds.

“We like to release them with what we call a little reserve. A little extra padding,” Deming said. “They’re going to have to go out there now and figure out how to find fish on their own. So with them having a little bit more blubber on them, it gives a little bit more time to work that out so that we don’t end up seeing them back again.”

The Pacific Marine Mammal Center has continuously released its patients throughout the pandemic but paused advertising in-person celebrations due to health protocols, said Glenn Gray, CEO of the nonprofit.

Once the sea lions arrived at Aliso Beach, volunteers carried kennels containing the pinnipeds to the shore and lined them up in a row. Volunteers and donors that have contributed significantly to the growth and mission of PMMC opened the kennels’ doors.

The moment the doors opened, Flint and Poriot, who Deming calls “best friends,” darted toward the ocean together.

“They have been by each other’s side through it all and the other three were a little bit more hesitant. It’s like people, they have different personalities,” Deming said.

Chassis, Yoshi, and Trifecta showed hesitation looking back toward the kennels, but with encouragement from the volunteers and staff, they entered the ocean just one minute after the doors were open.

As the sea lions submerged in the water and reemerged on the other side of the morning wave for a final farewell.

“For the most part, for me it is a bittersweet thing for the release, but this is where they need to be, we want to send them back to their homes,” Deming said. “There are a lot of issues going on in the ocean that ended up making them stranded, and we haven’t solved those issues yet.”

To help create a better marine environment for the animals Deming recommends minimizing single-use plastic use and purchasing sustainable seafood.

“It is hard for me to put them back in the ocean when I know there are still issues but that’s a lot of the work we do after the animals leave is to understand how we can use them to understand ocean health and then figure out ways we can make the ocean environment better and safer for them,” Deming said.

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