Late last week, we welcomed the seventh rescued sea lion to our Georgia Aquarium family. This young rescued male made the trip to Atlanta from the Pacific Marine Mammal Center (PMMC) in Laguna Beach, California, a nonprofit marine mammal rehabilitation organization,. Before his journey to Atlanta began, a lot of considerations and planning had to take place. Aquarium veterinary and animal care team members traveled to California to finalize preparations and travel with him back to Atlanta.

This is not the first time staff members have traveled to PMMC. In 2016, we sent two staff members to assist in the rescue, rehabilitation and release of various marine mammals. Read about their story here: georgiaaquariumblog.org/pmmc.

This charismatic three-and-a-half-year-old sea lion has become a regular at PMMC over the years after stranding on the coast four times. Originally stranding at only 6-months-old, he was rescued and rehabilitated by The Marine Mammal Care Center of Los Angeles, CA, another nonprofit organization that focuses on the rehabilitation of pinnipeds. He was released by the center on July 2, 2014, weighing only 70 pounds.

Wendy Leeds, animal care coordinator at PMMC, responded to each stranding and release of this young sea lion after his initial release from The Marine Mammal Center. Four short months after his first release, he stranded again. Rescuers from PMMC discovered him near Huntington Beach in the mud, a fishhook snagged in the left side of his mouth. He was rehabilitated and released on February 15, 2015, weighing 92 pounds.

Wendy recounted the call she received from Dana Point Harbor Patrol on November 11, 2015. “They informed us that an animal with a tag was seen being hand fed by the public,” said Wendy. “The animal was jumping onto boats, trying to get into coolers. I went out to assess the situation, and when we stopped the boat, he came right up to us and jumped on. He practically walked right into the cage with this look of, ‘okay, I’m ready to go.’ We read his tag and realized who he was. We took him back to the center, and that’s when we realized he had lost 28 pounds.”

He stayed at PMMC for nine months, reaching a healthy weight of 137 pounds. Wanting to give him his best chance, PMMC staff took him to Santa Cruz Island for his third release on July 21, 2016. Two short months later, Wendy responded to the call of a small, distressed sea lion in Dana Point Harbor. While assessing the small pinniped, a large sea lion jumped onto the back of the boat.

Wendy immediately noticed a tag and what appeared to be propeller wounds on its side. “With injuries like that, we decided it needed a rescue. When we attempted to collect the animal, it just sat there, staring at us,” said Wendy. “We opened the kennel door and it just walked right in. I couldn’t read the tag, but in my head I was thinking, ‘this better not be who I think it is.’ Sure enough, we got back to the facility and checked the tag better, and it was him.”

Due to his stranding multiple times, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)deemed him non-releasable, meaning he was in need of a forever home. Here at Georgia Aquarium, we have become a forever home for many rescued California sea lions, making it the perfect home for this high-spirited 163-pound male.

“I’ve had a lot of fond memories with him,” said Wendy. “My favorite would be our last rescue. Knowing that we had released him so far away, but he came back, almost as if to say, ‘what do I have to do to get you guys to keep me?’ He’s a very good boy with a very calm demeanor. I’ve noticed that he’s very watchful of the younger sea lions around him, and makes sure he can see them at all times.”

We are excited to welcome this young male sea lion to our SunTrust Pier 225 family. He traveled wonderfully to Atlanta and is currently in an off-exhibit pool adjusting to his new surroundings. Our animal care and veterinary teams are monitoring and working with him daily, and over time will begin forming the amazing trust bond with him they have established with the other sea lions in our care. Our teams are moving at the new sea lion’s pace, making sure he is comfortable in his new home. 

This rescued sea lion has quite the stranding and rescue history and sadly, stranding sea lions are becoming a large issue on the coast of California. Young sea lion pups are coming ashore in search of food, sometimes leading to them being hand fed by people. Unfortunately, this desensitizes them to people, sometimes impacting their ability to naturally forage and hunt on their own. Instead, they begin to think of people as a food source.

Follow Georgia Aquarium on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for updates on our new resident! For more information and to donate to the Pacific Marine Mammal Center, please visit www.pacificmmc.org. Visit Georgia Aquarium’s new sea lion gallery, SunTrust Pier 225, to view our sea lion presentation, Under the Boardwalk.