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Steller Sea Lion Pup Just Wants S’more Friends

Orphaned Steller sea lion pup Smores spent four months at The Marine Mammal Center learning how to socialize and be a sea lion.

May 9, 2018

Steller sea lion Smores. Photo by Bill Hunnewell © The Marine Mammal Center. To see more photos like this, follow us on Instagram.

Found on a northern California beach alone and just a few months old, Steller sea lion pup Smores was rescued by the Northcoast Marine Mammal Center last August. As part of the National Marine Mammal Stranding Network, this rehabilitation facility rescues stranded animals in California’s northernmost counties, Humboldt and Del Norte.

Steller sea lion pups like Smores typically are dependent on their mothers for about a year or more as they nurse and learn how to dive. At just a few months old when she was rescued, Smores was much too young to be on her own and wouldn’t have survived without help.

At the Northcoast Marine Mammal Center, Smores was fed a milk formula until she learned how to eat fish, a skill she would have learned from her mother in the wild.

Because Steller sea lions are a social species, another important skill Smores needed to learn before she could be released was how to interact with other marine mammals.

During her time in northern California, Smores shared a pool with several harbor seal pups. Even though Smores was more than three times their size, she was a young pup just like them, and they all had to learn how to survive in the wild.

But when Smores’ pen-mates were ready for release, she was still too young to be on her own, so she needed a new home!

The Marine Mammal Center to the Rescue!
With a rescue range that spans more than 600 miles of the California coastline and the entirety of the Big Island of Hawai`i, The Marine Mammal Center is funded by people like you, which allows us to respond to more stranded marine mammals than any other organization in the world.

Luckily for Steller sea lion pup Smores, that means we almost always have a few playmates for young animals needing to learn how to socialize. Spending time with companions of different ages also helps Steller sea lion pups avoid habituating to humans while learning important behaviors to help compete in the wild.

When Smores arrived in December weighing about 120 pounds, her first pen-mate was a northern fur seal pup named Furduckin who weighed in at just 24 pounds. Despite their tremendous size difference, the two became quick friends, showing a lot of interaction and activity, mostly initiated by Smores. After Furduckin was released, Smores was given the opportunity to interact with many other patients at the Center, including a number of California sea lions, the species most similar to Steller sea lions.

Northern fur seal Furduckin and Steller sea lion Smores. Photo by Bill Hunnewell © The Marine Mammal Center. To see more photos like this, follow us on Instagram.

The Center’s veterinary staff noted that Smores was very protective of her pen-mates and didn’t like being left alone.

“If we had to enter the pen, Smores would wrap her flippers around the sea lion pups in an attempt to protect them and try to keep us away from her friends,” says Dr. Abby McClain, Koret Foundation Veterinary Intern at the Center. “And if she was left alone while we weighed them or did a procedure, she seemed to pout and refused to eat!”

Although this behavior is somewhat unusual, Dr. McClain says, it’s actually a great sign that Smores will do well in the wild along with other Steller sea lions and that she has not been habituated to humans.

During her rehabilitation at The Marine Mammal Center, our animal husbandry experts worked hard to ensure that Smores was entertained not just by her pen-mates but also with enriching activities that kept her from getting bored. She was given opportunities to catch live fish, play with kelp fronds or solve puzzles like how to reach herring hidden inside compartments within a box at the bottom of the pool.

Smores Returns Home with a Friend

After nine months of rehabilitation at two different hospitals, Smores was given a good bill of health and deemed ready to survive on her own in the wild. Our goal was to release her at a time and place she would most likely encounter other Steller sea lions her own age.

But given her social nature, our veterinary team knew she wouldn’t like heading out to sea alone, so they arranged for her to be released alongside one of her California sea lion pen-mates, Sienna.

On April 18, Smores and Sienna were loaded onto a boat in Sausalito and transported to the waters near the Farallon Islands, a national marine sanctuary that is home to a number of Steller sea lions as well as many other marine mammals. The two sea lions leapt out of their crates and into the deep blue waters to look for new friends.

You Can Make a Difference

It’s only thanks to generous donors like you that orphaned Steller sea lions like Smores are able to get a second chance at life in the wild. You will make a real difference for orphaned pups and all of the marine mammals in our care by making a life-saving gift today.


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