By Jen Mannas, PAWS Naturalist
You may remember, back in early October of 2014, PAWS Wildlife Center received a patient we'd never treated before – a Steller Sea Lion pup, estimated to be only four months old. Today we look back at his rehabilitation and share the happy ending that saw him return to Washington waters this spring.
Found alone on a beach in southwest Washington, the pup was brought to PAWS by a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) marine mammal biologist for treatment.
Below is one of the pictures we took of him just after he arrived. He was very thin, weak, anemic, had multiple lacerations, and only weighed 68 lbs. A healthy Steller Sea Lion at that age should weigh at least twice that much.
Examined on intake by our veterinarian team, and given fluids and a specialized formula, PAWS staff worked diligently over the next few days to stabilize the pup and get him on solid food. With every feeding he regained his strength and, after a week, he was happily eating fish and had gained over 15 lbs.
Adult male Stellers can weigh up to 2,500 lbs so, even in the short amount of time he would spend with us, we knew this patient was going to grow quite a bit! With this in mind, he was moved to a larger enclosure with a more suitable pool for swimming:
Can't see the video embedded above? Try watching it on our Vimeo channel instead.
Steller Sea Lions are very social and interact with other pinnipeds (a carnivorous aquatic mammal of the order Pinnipedia, such as the Harbor Seal) in the wild. Since our sea lion patient was so young, it was extremely important that he be exposed to other sea lions. Given it was unlikely we'd get another one during that time of year, it was decided he'd be transferred to a facility where he could be housed with others like him until his release back in Washington.
On November 14 he was flown—as part of a U.S. Coast Guard training mission—to California to continue his long term rehabilitation at The Marine Mammal Center (TMMC).
In his four months there—housed in a large pool (pictured below) where he could socialize with California Sea Lions and Northern Fur Seals—he gained over 150 lbs, and developed skills he'd need to survive on his own in the wild (Stellers at this age would still be learning these skills from their mom).
Photo reproduced courtesy of The Marine Mammal Center
On April 17, the eight-month-old, 300 lb male Steller sea lion pup was transported back to Washington by WDFW – and PAWS was along for the ride. During his transport the Steller rested peacefully in his transport crate, intermittently watching the world go by through the small slats (see below). Though he made sure to announce his presence every time the team stopped for gas or food along the way!
He was released near where he was rescued on the Southwest coast. Before his release he was affixed with a GPS transmitter that will allow biologists to track his movements and see how he is does in the future.
Currently he’s off the coast of the Olympic Peninsula. You can track his movements too using this link.
Although Steller Sea Lions are no longer federally listed in the Pacific Northwest, they are still a very important part of the marine ecosystem and are still threatened by habitat degradation, ship strikes and over fishing.
We were thrilled to be a part of this collaborative effort between NOAA, WDFW, Seattle Aquarium, TMMC and the U.S. Coast Guard – rehabilitating and returning this Steller Sea Lion back to Washington waters where he belongs.
Found a marine mammal you think needs help? Find out what to do.
Help us continue providing care to wild animals in need. Donate here.
Interested in a career in wildlife rehabilitation? Check out internship/externship opportunities at PAWS.