August 19, 2015
We are proud and excited to announce the arrival of two male California sea lions to Georgia Aquarium. The sea lions are survivors of California’s unusual mortality event, or UME, that involves young sea lions. These animals, along with more than 3,000 others this year alone, were found stranded, malnourished and underweight. Despite multiple attempts rehabilitating and releasing these sea lions, they unfortunately continued to wash ashore and were deemed non-releasable by the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA Fisheries).
When it is determined that an animal no longer meets release criteria, NOAA Fisheries, with the help of the zoological community, works to find homes for them. Georgia Aquarium is proud to help in this rescue effort and provide a caring home to these two sea lions.
The sea lions, ranging from just one year old to two years old, have already faced significant adversity in their short lives. The two-year-old male sea lion was rescued three times at different marine mammal centers in California before he was deemed non-releasable. The one-year-old male was rescued two times and was observed approaching people and taking food, deeming him as a public safety risk and qualifying him as non-releasable. Both pups were found malnourished and underweight after each rescue.
Last week, both sea lions were safely transported from California to Georgia. The animals are doing well, are responding to animal care staff and getting comfortable with their new surroundings. While they are in good health and no longer sick, they are in quarantine for a period of time to ensure that they do not become sick or spread any underlying issues to our other animals.
This rescue is important because these sea lions help Georgia Aquarium and the zoological community educate the public about the issues these animals face in the wild.
High numbers of stranded pups began washing ashore in California starting in January 2013. The unprecedented numbers resulted in the event being declared an unusual mortality event for sea lion pups. The sea lions that rescuers discover are found emaciated, underweight and malnourished.
Understanding what causes these strandings is extremely important in finding ways we can help the species. Findings suggest that the unprecedented number of strandings is likely a result of a dramatic shift in the availability of prey, such as sardines, that are an important food source for nursing sea lion mothers.
As prey animal populations move farther offshore, nursing females must travel farther from their pups to forage. Because of this, many have a difficult time returning to their pups. When lesser prey is available nearby, the species might not provide the adequate nutrition the mothers need to support their growing pups. As a result, many pups are weaning too early when they haven’t developed enough foraging strategies on their own and are washing ashore due to starvation. The exact cause of this shift in food supply is still under investigation.
As a supporter of animal rescue and rehabilitation, Georgia Aquarium helps marine mammal facilities along the California coast with expert care, treatment and support. Earlier this year, during the peak of the sea lion pup UME strandings, Georgia Aquarium sent four staff members to assist with the UME at The Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, Ca.
Helping these sea lions and their rescuers on the ground, along with providing a home to some of the animals who were unable to be released and survive on their own are just a few of the ways we continue to be part of this important rescue effort.
For now the two sea lions in our care will remain in a private area of the aquarium as they receive care and acclimate to their new environment. Aquarium guests can meet the sea lions in their permanent home in Georgia Aquarium’s new sea lion gallery presented by SunTrust, which opens in spring 2016.