An orphaned Steller sea lion pup has a second chance at life thanks to the collaborative efforts of marine mammal stranding partners across two states, including PAWS (Progressive Animal Welfare Society), the Marine Mammal Center, NOAA Fisheries, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and the U.S. Coast Guard.
The male pup was returned to his natural habitat after months of rehabilitation at facilities in Washington and California. A satellite tracking device will allow scientists to collect data on his behavior in the wild.
This Steller sea lion’s story began on October 3, 2014, when Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) Marine Mammal Investigations responded to a call regarding a 4-month-old sea lion pup stranded in Ocean Shores, Wash. WDFW rescued the animal and held him overnight for observation and to perform a health assessment. The pup was nicknamed “Henderson” after the Ocean Shores police officer that first responded to the pup on the beach.
On the morning of Oct. 4, the pup was transferred to PAWS in Lynnwood for stabilization, treatment and care. At PAWS, wildlife veterinary staff immediately treated what appeared to be small lacerations and provided much-needed food for the underweight marine mammal. At less than 100 pounds, he was considered emaciated for a pup of his age.
“The pup responded very well to the medical care he received from our wildlife veterinary staff. As he began to stabilize, we worked with our partners to seek out the right extended care facility that would have the space for a growing male Steller sea lion,” said Jennifer Convy, Director of Wildlife at PAWS.
The decision was made to send the pup to the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, Calif. to successfully reach weaning age and for appropriate socialization with other similar species. In partnership with the U.S. Coast Guard, the pup was flown from Seattle on a C-130 training flight to Sacramento, Calif. on Nov. 13, 2014. The Marine Mammal Center gave the animal his official name, “Leo” (meaning “lion” in Latin), as they continued his care and rehabilitation.
“As the world’s largest marine mammal rehabilitation facility, the Marine Mammal Center has the capacity and expertise to care for large animals like Leo,” said Dr. Shawn Johnson, Director of Veterinary Science at The Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito. “This spring, Leo was one of more than 200 seal and sea lion patients at our hospital, giving him plenty of opportunities to learn how to socialize with other animals in the wild.”
During his five-month stay at The Marine Mammal Center, Leo nearly tripled in size, gaining more than 150 pounds since his rescue. The Center’s animal husbandry experts enriched his daily routine by giving him opportunities to catch live fish, play with kelp fronds or solve puzzles like how to reach herring frozen inside of a large block of ice. This spring, Leo was officially cleared for release by the Center’s veterinary experts.
Leo was released near the location of his original rescue. At a healthy weight of more than 250 pounds, Leo is now large enough to thrive in his natural habitat on his own and join the healthy population of Steller sea lions inhabiting the waters of the Pacific Northwest.
NOAA Fisheries recommends that people not disturb animals and to report them to the stranding network or local authorities. To report a dead, injured or stranded marine mammal, please call 1-866-767-6114.