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Northern elephant seal Raya
News Update

Choose Your Favorite Marine Mammal Patient of 2023

January 23, 2024

Thanks to caring people like you, countless marine mammals were rescued in 2023. Now it’s time to recognize some of the most memorable animal rescue stories.

Voting for Patient of the Year for 2023 is now closed.

Here's how you voted:

Brion - Northern Fur Seal

23%

Raya - Northern elephant seal
17%
Hanai - Southern sea otter
16%
Niko - California sea lion
14%
RH38 – Hawaiian monk seal
13%
Cyrus - Pacific harbor seal
11%
Giant - Guadalupe fur seal 6%



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Want to show your favorite patients even more love? Each one of our Patient of the Year nominees is available as a digitally downloadable Adopt-a-Seal®! Your symbolic adoption comes with a certificate featuring the patient’s photo and story, and proceeds support life-saving care for the next sick or injured animal.

Thank you for giving our marine mammal patients a second chance at life -- none of this would be possible without you!

Niko - California Sea Lion

Rescued: May 24, 2023
Released: June 29, 2023
Diagnosis: Malnutrition, leptospirosis 

Covered in sand, California sea lion Niko was starving, lethargic and had his flippers tucked against his belly when he was found. Luckily, a concerned beachgoer called our hotline to report this distressed sea lion. Once rescued and at our hospital, Niko immediately started drinking water. Marine mammals generally don’t need to drink water because they receive all the hydration they need from food sources. This behavior and his tucked flippers were signs that he was suffering from leptospirosis, a bacterial infection that affects the kidneys and can be fatal if left untreated. Leptospirosis is a serious disease that can also infect humans and dogs. What our scientists learn from treating patients like Niko helps us better understand what causes an outbreak, how we can improve treatment for infected animals and how to protect humans as well. Thanks to rehabilitative care that included fish meals, antibiotics, fluids and other supportive care, this young sea lion recovered. After about a month, Niko was released to his ocean home with a second chance at life.  

California sea lion Niko

Raya - Northern Elephant Seal

Rescued: January 15, 2023
Released: September 15, 2023
Diagnosis: Malnutrition, maternal separation, trauma, unknown

Northern elephant Raya was spotted on the beach all alone and looking much too skinny. Sadly, this tiny pup was so young that she was still sporting her blackcoat, or baby fur, which elephant seals shed once they’ve weaned from their mother. Strong storms that are linked to climate change can sweep young pups off the beach before they have weaned from their mothers or learned how to survive on their own. Raya was our first elephant seal patient of the season and was named after a longtime volunteer who passed away and dearly loved elephant seal pups. Thankfully, she had the food and care she needed to grow strong. Our trained volunteers tube-fed Raya nutritious “fish smoothies” and eventually taught her how to catch and eat fish on her own. After eight months of care—the longest stay for an elephant seal pup in several decades—Raya gained a healthy amount of weight. She showed our experts that she had learned the skills to thrive in the wild and was released back to her ocean home. 

northern elephant seal Raya

Brion - Northern Fur Seal

Rescued: October 18, 2023
Released: December 7, 2023
Diagnosis: Malnutrition, maternal separation, enteropathy  

Northern fur seal pup Brion was found on the beach malnourished and much too young to be on his own. This species rarely comes to shore except for when they are sick or injured. As an orphaned pup, Brion was lucky someone called our hotline alerting our trained experts of this young seal that needed help. After evaluating the scene, our response experts determined that this young pup was in need of medical attention, so they safely rescued and transported Brion to our hospital. Upon arrival, Brion was lethargic, but after weeks of hearty fish meals, he transformed from a weak pup to a bright fur seal swimming and grooming in his pen. In fact, he nearly doubled his weight while in care! After nearly two months, Brion received a clean bill of health and was released back to his ocean home with a second chance at life alongside other rehabilitated marine mammals.

northern fur seal Brion

Cyrus - Pacific harbor seal

Rescued: July 9, 2023
Released: July 14, 2023
Diagnosis: Trauma, human interaction

Severely entangled in a jumbled mass of netting and thin fishing line, harbor seal pup Cyrus was in desperate need of help. After receiving calls to our hotline, our trained response experts arrived at the scene and partnered with local firefighters to rescue this pup. After he was safely netted from the water, Cyrus’ bulky entanglement was removed, and he was brought to our hospital for further care. That’s when our animal care experts saw that this pup also had a hook lodged into his lower lip. While we can’t be certain how Cyrus became entrapped in the first place, what we do know is that seals and sea lions are intelligent, curious creatures that can see ocean trash as something to eat or investigate not knowing the object could be potentially fatal. After the hook was removed, Cyrus was active, alert and eating whole fish on his own very well—all positive signs that he was ready for life back in the wild. In a matter of days, Cyrus was released back to his ocean home entanglement-free.

harbor seal Cyrus

Giant - Guadalupe Fur Seal

Rescued: January 29, 2023
Released: May 4, 2023
Diagnosis: Malnutrition, maternal separation

Found all alone, Guadalupe fur seal Giant did not live up to her name. You see, she was starving and weighed little more than what she would have as a newborn despite being much older. Fortunately for this orphaned pup, a concerned beachgoer called our response hotline. After our experts determined Giant needed medical attention, she was brought to our hospital where she was gently tube-fed “fish smoothies.” At first, animal care experts noted that she was less active than was typical for this species. But soon enough, Giant’s energy and strength returned, and she was observed enthusiastically swimming and grooming in the pool. She also transitioned to eating whole fish, a skill she would need to be released back to the wild. It took a few attempts of mouthing the fish before Giant had her “lightbulb” moment and learned to eat whole fish on her own. After about three months of care, Giant was granted a clean bill of health and released back to the wild with a second chance at life.

Guadalupe fur seal Giant

RH38 – Hawaiian Monk Seal

Rescued: June 25, 2023
Released: November 14, 2023
Diagnosis: Pneumonia, trauma, unknown, lithiasis, reproductive abnormality

When Hawaiian monk seal RH38 was spotted on a beach in Kaua‘i, she looked weak and displayed concerning behaviors. Hawaiian monk seals are one of the most endangered animals in the world, so each seal is essential to saving this species from extinction. Thankfully, she was rescued and brought to our hospital that’s dedicated to this endangered species, Ke Kai Ola. Unlike our other monk seal patients, this seal was not given a name out of respect for cultural traditions on Kaua‘i where monk seals are not named, and instead referred to as RH38. At our hospital, experts found that she was battling a series of ailments ranging from kidney stones to a fractured tooth. For our experts to develop a specialized treatment plan for RH38, they utilized advanced medical equipment, performing a CT scan, full body X-rays and ultrasound exams on this seal. During her nearly five months of care, RH38 regained her strength and a healthy amount of weight. Upon release, as soon as RH38’s carrier opened, she knew what she wanted to do… she galumphed straight toward the ocean and dove into the waves. 

Hawaiian monk seal RH38

Hanai - Southern Sea Otter

Rescued: May 30, 2023
Released: August 4, 2023
Diagnosis: Malnutrition, abnormal behavior, Sarcocystis, toxoplasmosis

Found hauled out on a dock, southern sea otter Hanai was starving and in clear need of help. Southern sea otters are a threatened species, so the survival of each individual is critical to the future of the population. Luckily, Hanai was safely rescued and brought to our hospital for care. There, our animal care experts determined that not only was she malnourished, but she was also suffering from two potentially fatal conditions: toxoplasmosis, which can cause brain infections, and Sarcocystis, which can make it difficult for an animal to eat or breathe. With a specialized treatment plan that included a diet of seafood delicacies like shrimp, clam, squid and crab, Hanai began to regain her strength. After weeks of care, she was behaving like a healthy wild sea otter should, grooming and diving into the pool when approached by people. Hanai returned to her ocean home with a new lease on life. In fact, shortly after her release, she was spotted successfully foraging, grooming and resting in her old territory along the Central California coast.

southern sea otter Hanai

Patient images © The Marine Mammal Center / NOAA permit #18786 / USFWS permit MA101713-1

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