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Steller Sea Lion Pup Found Orphaned in Northern California

Choco was less than a month old when he was rescued in Humboldt County; now he’s rehabilitating at The Marine Mammal Center and learning how to be a wild sea lion so he can be released back to the ocean.

October 31, 2018

Steller sea lion pup Choco. Photo by Dana Angus © The Marine Mammal Center. To see more photos like this, follow us on Instagram.

In July, Steller sea lion pup Choco was found malnourished and with no mother in sight in Humboldt County in northern California – and at only three weeks old. An orphaned pup that young has no chance at survival in the wild. It was clear that intervention was needed.

Luckily for Choco, the Northcoast Marine Mammal Center rescued him from what would have been a devastating fate. 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 Choco are typically dependent on their mothers for about a year as they nurse and learn how to dive. At the Northcoast Marine Mammal Center, Choco was tube-fed formula to make up for the missing nutrients he would have gotten from his mother.

Because Steller sea lions are a very social species and Choco is so young, he is at high risk for habituating to humans. During his time at the Northcoast Marine Mammal Center he had many marine mammal pen-mates, mostly harbor seals, but once they were released, he needed more playmates. Before Choco can be returned to the ocean, it is vital for him to learn how to interact with other marine mammals.

Choco needed a new home!

Steller sea lion pup Choco. Photo by Dana Angus © The Marine Mammal Center. To see more photos like this, follow us on Instagram.

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 this Steller sea lion pup, 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.

After almost three months in northern California, Choco was loaded onto a truck and transferred to our Sausalito hospital.

When Choco arrived in late September, he joined a young California sea lion named Indigo in an area reserved for patients at risk of habituation. Volunteers and staff are extremely diligent when caring for Choco to ensure he has the best chance of survival when it comes time for his release.

In the spring of 2019, Choco will be old enough to survive on his own. But given his social nature, we know he won’t like being out at sea alone. At that time of year, Steller sea lions in the wild will be migrating near where Choco will be released. Our goal is to release him at a time and place where he will have the best opportunity to easily reunite with other Steller sea lions.

Until then, Choco will be learning many new things! In the wild, he will not only need to know how to interact with other animals but also how to catch his own fish and compete for food. Currently, he is still being fed a formula mixture, but soon he will begin fish school. Choco is vocal and active – both reassuring signs he is a survivor.

You Can Make a Difference

It’s only thanks to generous donors like you that orphaned Steller sea lions like Choco 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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