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O.C. marine mammal center nears capacity after sea lion influx

March 12, 2013 | 12:42 pm

PHOTOS: Caring for sea lion pups

Orange County’s only marine mammal care center this week declared a state of emergency, saying it is nearing capacity while caring for an influx of malnourished and dehydrated sea lion pups coming ashore.

The Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach over the weekend admitted 18 sea lions. Twelve came in Saturday, the largest single-day total in the center's 42-year history, according to a news release.

As of Sunday, the center had 86 animals in its care, 84 of them sea lions.

PHOTOS: Caring for sea lion pups

"The last time the center received this many sea lions this early in the season was 1998," said Melissa Sciacca, director of development at the nonprofit center.

Most of the malnourished or dehydrated animals are 8 to 9 months old, Sciacca said.

Los Angeles County is also seeing an increase in admitted sea lion pups.

Officials at the Laguna Beach center and Marine Mammal Care Center at Fort MacArthur in San Pedro could not speculate what may be responsible for the recent sea lion surge.

"We're a hospital," Sciacca said. "Our job is to get the animal home. Often the answers aren't found until the event is over and we're getting a bigger picture."

The Fort MacArthur center is Los Angeles County’s only marine mammal facility and is experiencing a similar surge in admitted sea lion pups. The center has taken in more than 280 animals since the beginning of the year, director David Bard said.

He said the center typically sees 300 to 500 animals a year.

"Biologists have noted an increase in sea lion pup births and a decrease in the weight of those pups," Bard said.

Resources for treating the sea lions are slim with the influx. Space is at a premium at the Laguna center while money is needed for medicine, food and vehicle transportation to and from beaches.

Pacific Marine Mammal Center has two rescue trucks with specialized crates to house the animals en route to the center, Sciacca said.


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-- Bryce Alderton, Times Community News

Photo: A California sea lion pup recovers Feb. 14 in Laguna Beach. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times