ATLANTA (August 20, 2015) – Georgia Aquarium today announces the arrival of two male California sea lions into its care.  The sea lions are survivors of California’s current unusual mortality event (UME) involving young sea lions. In this year alone, more than 3,000 starving sea lion pups have been found stranded on California beaches. Many die, but for some, they are rescued, rehabilitated and are released. For these sea lions, despite multiple releases, they continued to wash ashore and were deemed non-releasable by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA Fisheries).

“When it’s determined that an animal does not meet release criteria, NOAA Fisheries, with the help of the zoological community, finds homes for them,” said Dennis Christen, senior director of zoological operations at Georgia Aquarium. “Georgia Aquarium is proud to be part of this effort to help and provide a caring home to these two sea lions.”

High numbers of stranded pups began washing ashore in California starting in January 2013. The unprecedented numbers resulted in the event being declared an unusual mortality event for sea lion pups. The sea lions that rescuers discover are found emaciated, underweight and malnourished. Findings suggest that the unprecedented number of strandings is likely a result of a dramatic shift in the availability of prey, such as sardines, that are an important food source for nursing sea lion mothers.

As prey animal populations move farther offshore, nursing females must travel farther from their pups to forage. Because of this, many have a difficult time returning to their pups. When lesser prey is available nearby, the species might not provide the adequate nutrition the mothers need to support their growing pups. As a result, many pups are weaning too early when they haven’t developed enough foraging strategies on their own and are washing ashore due to starvation.

As a supporter of animal rescue and rehabilitation, Georgia Aquarium helped marine mammal facilities along the California coast with expert care, treatment and support. Earlier this year, during the peak of sea lion pup UME strandings, Georgia Aquarium sent four staff members to assist with the UME at The Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, Ca.

“It is an honor to not only help these sea lions and their rescuers on the ground, but to also provide a home to a few of the animals who were unable to be released and survive on their own. This is just one way we continue to be part of this effort,” said Christen.

The sea lions, ranging from just one year old to two years old were safely transported from California to Georgia Aquarium last week. The animals are doing well, are responding to animal care staff and getting comfortable with their new surroundings.  

The two-year-old male sea lion was rescued three times at different marine mammal centers, including The Marine Mammal Care Center at Fort MacArthur, and The Marine Mammal Center, before he was deemed non-releasable. The one-year-old male was rescued two times and was observed approaching people and taking food, deeming him as a public safety risk and qualifying him as non-releasable. Both pups were found malnourished and underweight after each rescue.

For now the animals will remain in a private area of the aquarium as they receive care and acclimate to their new environment. The sea lions will find a permanent home in Georgia Aquarium’s new sea lion gallery presented by SunTrust, which opens in spring 2016. There, they will serve as sea lion ambassadors helping educate the public about the issues the animals face in the wild.

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ABOUT GEORGIA AQUARIUM

Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that contains more than 10 million gallons of water and has the largest collection of aquatic animals in North America. Georgia Aquarium’s mission is to be a scientific institution that entertains and educates, features exhibits and programs of the highest standards, and offers engaging and exciting guest experiences that promote the conservation of aquatic biodiversity throughout the world. Georgia Aquarium is an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums. For additional information, visit www.georgiaaquarium.org.