GULFPORT, Miss. — Four young sea lions stranded on California beaches have a new home at the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies.
Marine biologists don't know why more than 1,000 sea lion pups have been abandoned on California beaches since January -- more than three times the usual number -- prompting the declaration of an "unusual mortality event" from San Diego to Santa Barbara.
"It's unprecedented," said Moby Solangi, executive director of IMMS in Gulfport. "It looks like something is changing in the environment."
Without their mothers' milk and protection, the sea lions are starving and dying, he said, adding many have to be euthanized.
IMMS is the only public display facility in the United States that has a permit to acquire stranded sea lions, said Solangi, and is the first public display facility outside California to receive the abandoned pups.
"It would not be good practice to rehabilitate them and then release them back into the same environment that has rejected them," he said.
The four pups flown to IMMS are females about 9 months old, said Tim Hoffland, director of training. The two that arrived a couple of months ago, Kaytee and Sage, are now larger and swim together in a pool. Although Kaytee has already learned to kiss and wave, she is scared in large groups and still sleeps with a fuzzy toy seal, he said.
The two newest arrivals haven't had any human interaction at all. A contest to name the new arrivals has been set up on the IMMS website.
IMMS has room for four more sea lions and Solangi said they will try to get two males.
Solangi said the sea lions can't be released into the wild and eventually will perform in shows at IMMS.
"They're very eager to learn," he said.
They also will be used for educating children about mammals and the environment in a fun way, he said.