Newly Reopened Marine Mammal Center Rehabilitates First Sea Lion

In 2013, headlines up and down the California coast reported on sea lion troubles, prompting the California Wildlife Center (CWC) to leap into action. 

This also prompted an investigation from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which declared a growing problem with California sea lion pups from 2013-17. The animals were found to be dehydrated and generally underweight.

This, according to Dr. Duane Tom (the CWC director of animal care), and a lack of food supply is what originally prompted the center to rush open its marine mammal enclosure in 2013.

But that enclosure wasn’t enough. It was not until this year that a permanent facility was built. In fact, it has since released its first patient.

The original enclosure was built to be temporary.

“We just put that together as quick as we could,” Tom said, adding: “Over the past few years, there were certain things we wish we had done better … in terms of managing animals.”


CWC Executive Director Jennifer Brent echoed the statement, and said the enclosure was only built for one season.

“Previous to that, we were transferring [marine mammals] to a facility down in San Pedro,” she said. 

Here’s where a little-known man named Leonardo DiCaprio comes in. His eponymous foundation is “dedicated to the long-term health and well-being of all Earth’s inhabitants,” as stated on its website. The foundation supports a number of California-centric projects, including a proposed wildlife crossing to save mountain lions from extinction and funding for the CWC.

Using the awarded funds, the CWC was able to start anew with its marine mammal rehabilitation enclosures, installing weather and waterproof materials, better drains, double gate system, loading dock and more. Former volunteer Ann Jin Chiu donated and painted a seascape mural on the aboveground structure.

The enclosure was closed for renovations during the “slow” part of the year—August through December. 

During this time, the center transported animals to other centers in Los Angeles County, like the Marine Mammal Care Center in San Pedro.

On opening day—Jan. 1—the newly opened center received its first patient: a sea lion “just shy of two months,” according to Michael Remski, the marine mammal program manager. 

Remski, who called the situation a “pretty typical rehab situation,” said the mammal came in malnourished with a slight eye injury.

After identifying the injuries, the CWC staff worked to wean the sea lion onto solid food and treated the injury with medication.

Two months later, the pup, after a full recovery, was brought to a beach and released to its natural habitat on March 1. 

During the busy season of the year, from January to July, staff and volunteers may deal with 25 sea lions at any given time, or 15 elephant seals in the latter half of the season.

Three sea lions are left healing in the marine mammal enclosure. Remski expects they’ll be “ready to go” sometime April.

According to a blog post by CWC Marine Stranding Coordinator Heather Henderson, “Northern elephant pups will start to haul out on our beaches in March.” 

Anyone who sees a pup—whether a sea lion or elephant seal—in trouble is encouraged to give the animal some space and call the CWC rescue hotline at 310.458.9453.

The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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