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Starving Sea Lions Continue to Strand on California Beaches

The Marine Mammal Center has rescued more than 400 California sea lions already this year, many of them starving young pups.

August 1, 2014

Chad was released back to the ocean on Monday, July 28. He spent 43 days at the Center, after he was rescued and treated for malnutrition. He was an emaciated 28 pounds when he was rescued, but by the time of his release he weighed a nice healthy 48 pounds! He was brought up to Chimney Rock, in the Point Reyes National Seashore, and released along with six other sea lions. 

Chad is released at Chimney Rock.


July 14, 2014

Chad the sea lion is putting on weight and starting to look much healthier now.
© Adam Ratner, The Marine Mammal Center

Chad is doing much better now, after just a few weeks at the Center. This little sea lion, who arrived here starving and emaciated on June 16, is now starting to look plump and healthy. He weighed just 28 pounds when he was admitted to our care and now is up to a much more robust 40 pounds!

Chad's initial diagnosis was not only malnutrition, but he was also found to be suffering from pneumonia. He is recovering nicely now and has a strong appetite. We are grateful for the outpouring of concern and support from friends of the Center!

Your donations are critically important in helping us take care of patients like Chad. You can make a difference and give these flippered friends a second chance at life!

June 27, 2014

Chad, a California sea lion pup, was just a bag of bones at the time of his rescue.
© The Marine Mammal Center


2014 has been a record year for The Marine Mammal Center, and it’s only June. Our busiest pupping season in nearly four decades brought in a record number of young animals, including California sea lions, northern elephant seals and harbor seals. At one point, we had 223 animals on-site at our Sausalito hospital, the most we’ve seen since it opened in 2009—and the second highest in our history.

Of the nearly 650 patients we’ve admitted this year, two-thirds of them have been sea lions. In fact, we’ve rescued more sea lions during the first half of this year than we did during all of last year.

Many of these sea lions are young and starving. They may have been weaned too soon or are struggling to find enough food due to changing fish stocks—or a combination. But no matter the reason, these animals are in need of our help.

Rooting for Chad
One of the most emaciated young sea lions we’ve seen recently is Chad, one of more than 50 sea lions in our care right now. Chad was rescued by the Santa Barbara Marine Mammal Center and brought to our Sausalito hospital for rehabilitation. This young male, estimated to be about a year old, arrived weighing just 28 pounds—less than half of what he should weigh at this age. And he looked like a bag of bones.

He was clearly suffering from malnutrition but also showed signs of pneumonia: When our veterinarians listened to his lungs, they heard “wheezes” and “crackles.”

The one-two punch of malnutrition and pneumonia isn’t unusual. It’s a diagnosis we’ve seen in many young animals this year. Starving sea lions have weakened immune systems that make infections more likely. And if Chad was weaned early, he might not have gotten all of the antibodies he needed from his mother’s milk.

In addition to receiving antibiotics for the pneumonia and other potential infections, part of Chad’s treatment plan includes the nutrition he needs to grow healthy and strong. When he first arrived, Chad was so emaciated that he had to be gradually introduced to fish. Our animal care volunteers tube-fed him electrolytes at first and then fish milkshakes—a mixture of ground-up herring, salmon oil and water.

After a few days, Chad was able to start eating whole fish. At first, he had trouble competing with his pen-mates to get his share and had to be fed separately. But over the last week, he has started to improve. This is an important survival skill for Chad to master in order to be successful when he returns to the ocean.

Hungry sea lion pups have been lined up at the Center for months now.
© The Marine Mammal Center


Although Chad and many of his fellow sea lion patients have arrived in an emaciated condition, the Center’s staff and volunteers remain hopeful about their eventual release. Dr. Shawn Johnson, Director of Veterinary Science, says he’s amazed that these sea lions, who were all born last June, have made it this far.

“Chad made it to his first birthday while many of the pups born last June haven’t, so I think he has a fighting chance. I’m rooting for him.”

You can help root for Chad and all of his sea lion pals by donating to support their rehabilitative care.



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