Sea lion found resting in patio chair at La Jolla hotel part of unexplained starvation trend [VIDEO & STORY]
• VIDEO: Watch a SeaWorld team member rescue the sea lion found at a La Jolla hotel by clicking on the image above, or go to: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5VIb7NpVlJs
By Pat Sherman and Ashley Mackin
An employee of Pantai Inn on Coast Boulevard discovered an unexpected guest lounging in a chair on the hotel’s dining patio early Tuesday morning, March 26 — a roughly 8-month-old California sea lion.
“The person working here overnight saw something on the security camera, went out and saw that it was a baby sea lion,” guest services agent Veronica Covert told the La Jolla Light. “We checked the security footage and it came over (from the beach) at about 5:45 a.m. and sort of sat next to the chair for a little bit and then propped itself up on the chair and made itself at home. It stayed there for a few hours until SeaWorld could come.
“We get plenty of seagulls,” Covert added, “but it’s the first time a baby sea lion has wandered over.”
SeaWorld rescuers arrived at about 9:30 a.m., and found the 27½-pound, female pup dehydrated and malnourished.
The female pup is on the mend at SeaWorld’s Animal Care Complex, where it was tube-fed and given fluids upon arrival. It was scheduled to receive a full examination once its condition had stabilized.
Monica DeAngelis, a marine biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), told the Light that an unusual number of sea lion pups rescued recently off the coast has led NOAA to declare the trend an “unusual mortality event.”
“Sadly, the number of pups stranded off the (Southern California) coast is not typical for this time of year,” DeAngelis said. “We suspect the animals are starving, but we don’t know why they aren’t finding the food. My agency is investigating.”
SeaWorld Director of Communications David Koontz said that more than 90 percent of the approximately 150 rescued animals in its care now are sea lion pups.
Though the sea lions are being rescued from as far south as Imperial Beach, Koontz said the majority of them are being discovered along the coast from La Jolla north to Oceanside.
SeaWorld has rescued 246 sea lions “and counting” since the beginning of the year, Koontz said.
“Our animal rescue team is rescuing a dozen or more (sea lions) on a given day,” he said. “Most are pups that were born last summer and weaned from their mother in the last three or four months.”
Koontz said the pups are dehydrated and malnourished and about 10 to 20 pounds below the weight they should normally be at this point in the first year of their lives.
SeaWorld has not observed the same problem with adult sea lions, leading rescuers to believe that there is no problem with the food source, only its availability to pups. One theory is that the fish they feed on could have moved to deeper waters, Koontz said.
The pups get both nutrition and hydration from the fish they eat.
“It’s kind of a double-edged sword,” Koontz said.
Upon arrival at SeaWorld, the sea lions are tube-fed until they are able to eat solid fish. Once it is determined that a pup is strong enough to survive on its own, and has gained enough weight, it is placed on a transport boat and released about 10 miles off the coast, in an area where there are other sea lions and or a known food source.
SeaWorld staff drew blood from the sea lion rescued at Pantai Inn and found nothing wrong with it. It is currently in stable condition at its rehab facility, Koontz said.
“Our goal is never to release an animal too early,” Koontz said, noting that given the high number of animals currently under its care, SeaWorld would neither be prolonging or abbreviating the animals’ stay pending NOAA’s findings (he said in a prior interview with the Light that it is not SeaWorld’s policy to make the animals they rescue dependent on humans).
“We have no anticipation that this is going to let up any time soon,” he said.
Pantai Inn employees said the security camera filmed the sea lion scooting up steps at the front of the property, and onto the patio. It is believed the pup made its way up from the beach by hopping up more than 50 cement steps on the opposite side of Coast Boulevard. A representative from SeaWorld said seal lions have an amazing ability to maneuver steep rock outcroppings and other obstacles on land. A few years ago SeaWorld rescued a sea lion that had made its way inland to the parking lot of Chevy’s Mexican restaurant in Del Mar.
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