During the spring, the natural world comes to life with activity like animals mating and giving birth; birds are singing, and bees are buzzing. But, spring is also a busy time for those who rescue wildlife, like the Pacific Marine Mammal Center (PMMC) in Laguna Beach, California. This particular time of year is known as stranding season for marine mammals like seals and sea lions.
During this time, PMMC sees an elevated level of rescues. This event coincides with the pupping season for the seals and sea lions who give birth in the winter months. This year has been especially busy due to a weak El Niño system. Research shows that years when an El Niño occurs result in a higher number of strandings along the coast.
Events and Public Relations Coordinator for PMMC, Krysta Hyguchi, explains the higher number of rescues seen so far this year. “These [elephant seals] aren't supposed to be this far South, especially on the coast in California. We've rescued 34 elephant seals. So, it’s unusually high for us. Normally we'll see maybe 15 of these guys a year. So, we doubled our rescues.” She says the center currently has a total of five harbor seals, and they usually only see one or 2wo a year. “It’s been a very odd year,” says Hyguchi.
The PMMC facility is located in Laguna Canyon, just a couple miles from the ocean. This is where the rescued seals and sea lions are brought for rehabilitation. The operation is carried out mostly by volunteers who take care of duties like cleaning, feeding, and maintaining the health of the animals. They are additionally involved in rescuing larger marine mammals like whales and dolphins in the field. The center is open to the public and is free to visit. They also conduct a good deal of educational programming throughout the year. “We are very dedicated to education and conservation. We see about 10,000 kids come through our center every year through a variety of our education programs,” says Hyguchi.
Seeing the progress of the animals as they go through the rehabilitation process, which ideally leads to a successful release back into the wild, seems to be the most rewarding part of the job for the folks at the Pacific Marine Mammal Center. They welcome the public to, not only visit the facility to learn about the animals, but also to attend the release events for the newly rehabilitated animals.