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Abiding by state and local safety guidelines, volunteers took part in California Wildlife Center's final marine mammal release of the season on July 25. Submitted photo/Harry Vamos
On July 25, California Wildlife Center released three California sea lions that had stranded in Malibu as pups at the end of May. They arrived weighing less than 50 percent of a healthy animal for their age. Submitted photo/KC Scofield
Heather Henderson, Marine Animal Stranding Coordinator, California Wildlife Center
Heather Henderson, Marine Animal Stranding Coordinator, California Wildlife Center
6:12 am PDT August 31, 2020

California Wildlife Center’s Marine Mammal department celebrated yet another successful year of in-house rehabilitative care and releases.

The season culminated on July 25 with the final release of the summer: three California sea lion patients. All three stranded in Malibu as pups at the end of May with less than 50 percent of a healthy body weight for their age.

Other ailments on arrival included gastrointestinal issues, causing digestive challenges and a severe abscess in the hip region. Through medical and supportive treatments, all issues resolved during the eight weeks in care.

California Wildlife Center is open 365 days a year to respond to reports of marine mammals in distress. While injuries and illness can occur at any time, there is a busy season for pinniped — seal and sea lion — strandings. This occurs from January through July, due in part to the natural birth cycle of the species we commonly see in Malibu. Each year, 90-95 percent of our response calls are for pinnipeds. During the busiest stranding months, we offer on-site rehabilitative care to rescued California sea lions and young elephant seals. The goal is to release them back into their natural setting once healthy.

As with every aspect of our lives, the 2020 marine mammal stranding season had a different feel, due to heightened safety concerns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.

Beaches were closed to the public and physical distancing measures required that we minimize on-site personnel. As a result, we performed the majority of the rehabilitation work without our volunteers this season. They are the heart of our operation and we have missed them immensely.

While navigating through these challenging times, we have been fortunate to have the support of county and state lifeguards. They have been our eyes on the beach and have granted us safe access for rescues and releases throughout the beach closures.

Releasing patients back to their natural environment is a moment to celebrate! The energy and excitement that they exude racing into the waves and swimming offshore is a representation of countless hours of work performed by dozens of people, beginning with the caring residents in Malibu who spot and report the animals.

The final release each rehabilitation season is always memorable; however, this year was particularly special. Abiding by state and local safety guidelines, we were able to include our volunteers on the beach for this release. Their support and tireless commitment to assisting wildlife is a ray of hope, appreciated now more than ever.

If you spot a marine mammal on the beach in distress, please call our hotline 310-458-WILD (9453). Never chase a marine mammal back into the ocean. Do not feed or offer water. Stay back 50-plus feet. Following these guidelines provides the best chance of rescue for the animal and ensures your safety!


California Wildlife Center is a 501(c)3 nonprofit that provides medical and rehabilitative care to more than 4,300 sick, injured, and orphaned native California animals every year. Click here to donate.