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2015: A Year for the Record Books

During our 40th anniversary year, The Marine Mammal Center rescued more seals and sea lions than ever before in our history.

January 8, 2016

The Center treated a record number of California sea lion pups in 2015

The biggest stories of 2015 were tied to the sheer number of starving pinniped pups washing ashore on our beaches due to abnormally warm ocean waters and a lack of food sources for nursing mothers and their pups.

The year began with what we dubbed a “sea lion tsunami.” By February, we had rescued a record number of California sea lion pups—all younger and skinnier than we typically see. Many of these pups had been weaned much too early to survive on their own.

Within a few months, our busy elephant seal and harbor seal pup seasons were in full swing as well, and we were caring for a record number of patients on-site at our hospital in Sausalito, California: 291. In fact, we cared for more than 200 patients at our hospital every single day for three solid months.

As the crisis continued, our veterinary experts were constantly adapting their treatment plans based on scientific findings to give our patients the best chance at survival.

By mid-year, we had rescued more than 30 Guadalupe fur seals, six times our record yearly rate—a distressing statistic given this animal’s population status as a threatened species. That’s why every Guadalupe fur seal we released in 2015 was fitted with a satellite tag to provide scientists with valuable information about the animal’s behavior and range.

By the end of the year, northern fur seals had become the third species to strand in record numbers along our 600-mile California rescue range. We rescued more than 100 of these pups in 2015—tripling our previous record for this species set in 2006.

Guadalupe fur seal Silkster has a satellite tag on his back. Photo by Dana Angus © The Marine Mammal Center, NOAA Permit #932-1905-01

More Than Just Pup Patients

Although many of our record-breaking number of patients were young seals and sea lions suffering from malnutrition, we also cared for animals suffering from other diagnoses.

We rescued more than 220 California sea lions suffering from the effects of domoic acid, a neurotoxin produced by harmful algal blooms. Scientists say the algal bloom found along the Pacific coast last year was the biggest and most toxic they had ever seen.

By September, about 75 percent of the sea lions in our care had been affected by the toxin, which can also sicken humans. As a result of the massive bloom, thought to be related to the unusually warm waters, public health officials were forced to close affected fisheries up and down the coast.

California wasn’t the only coastline on which we cared for a record number of animals. Less than two years after first opening its doors to patients, our Ke Kai Ola hospital facility in Kona, Hawaii, has already admitted more than one percent of the total Hawaiian monk seal population, which is estimated at about 1,100 individuals.

In 2015 alone, we admitted nine of those critically endangered monk seals—and two pups, Pearl and Hermes, were released back to their home in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands in September. Seven young seals are still rehabilitating at Ke Kai Ola today.

Hermes and Pearl in their pool at Ke Kai Ola. Photo by Julie Steelman, © The Marine Mammal Center, NOAA Permit 932-1905-01MA-009526-1

Numbers That Tell a Story

All told, we rescued more than 1,800 marine mammals in 2015—breaking nearly every record in our 40-year history and, more importantly, raising alarming questions about the health of our ocean.

The record numbers of stranded marine mammals we’ve seen in recent years indicates there is an urgent need for more science to help us all better understand how large-scale human impacts, such as climate change, overfishing and pollution, may be affecting the health of these animals and their ocean environment.

That’s why The Marine Mammal Center is focused not just on our work rescuing and rehabilitating these animals but also on scientific research efforts and educational programming to share what we learn.

Just in the last year, we reached more than 100,000 people through educational programs at the Center as well as community outreach efforts along the California coast and in Hawaii. In addition, The Marine Mammal Center serves as a teaching hospital, and in 2015, our experts provided hands-on training to visiting veterinary professionals from around the world.

Of course, none of this work would be possible without the record-breaking help we received from our 1,200 volunteers, who gave more than 150,000 hours of their time, as well as the financial support we received from the community throughout the year.

You Can Make a Difference
Generous supporters made The Marine Mammal Center’s record-breaking year possible—we couldn’t have done it without them. Please help us continue to carry out this important work to rescue and rehabilitate stranded marine mammals, learn as much as we can about them through scientific research and share our knowledge widely through educational outreach.


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