It’s taken six long months and many, many pounds of frozen fish to prepare Joy — a young sea lion found stranded in Long Beach — for her to return home to the ocean.
After feeding up the small, hungry California pup to almost four times her original 24-pound weight and testing to make sure she could still catch live fish in the wild, staff at San Pedro’s Marine Mammal Care Center decided Joy was ready.
On Tuesday morning, Joy and Holly, another rehabilitated sea lion, were released at Cabrillo Beach to the fanfare of waves crashing on the shore.
Joy was brought to the center after she was found in May, huddled in the front yard of a home on 68th Place, CEO John Warner said. Holly came in to be treated for parasitic infections and also had to be fattened up a bit.
“It’s taken a while for (Joy) to develop the foraging skills needed to be successful out in the ocean catching food, but (she’s) passed multiple live fish tests over the last month and we’re confident she is ready to go and successfully hunt on her own,” Warner said shortly before the release.
On the beach, Joy seemed eager to get out of the transfer pen, but once on the sand she galumphed a few yards away from onlookers and sniffed around uncertainly, getting her bearings.
Holly was slower to leave the pen but headed for the water almost immediately and soon disappeared into the waves. Finally, after getting splashed a few times in the surf zone, Joy followed.
Sea lions may become stranded on land when they’re sick, starving or otherwise in distress. Since last winter, the center has been overwhelmed with animals poisoned by toxic algae blooms.
Most of the more than 320 sea lions the center took in since the start of this year have recovered and been released, but Warner said he’s expecting another wave of patients next year due to predicted El Niño weather conditions.
A mass stranding event like the center saw earlier this year takes a big bite out of its budget, so Warner is hoping the release of the pups draws interest and donations – particularly with a private donor pledging to triple-match contributions made on Giving Tuesday for up to $75,000.
Beyond the public interest it attracts, Warner said releasing sea lions that have been nursed back to health represents the culmination of the center’s work.
“It shows that there’s hope in a world that’s so full of stories that make us want to hide under the covers,” he said. “So these moments remind us that there’s a lot we can still do, there’s a lot we can still celebrate.”
Learn more about the center and how to help at marinemammalcare.org.