Shedd Aquarium Responds To Call For Help To Rescue, Rehab Wild Sea Lions In California

Lisa Fielding
July 05, 2019 - 10:09 am
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CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- A Shedd Aquarium veterinarian has returned to Chicago after spending the last two weeks on the California Coast rescuing stranded sea lion pups.

A large influx of sick adult California sea lions and malnourished pups has created a crisis situation; and organizations like the Channel Island Marine & Wildlife Institute (CIMWI) and the Shedd Aquarium have responded to the call for help to rescue and rehabilitate the animals.

Animal care experts, veterinarians, vet techs, and volunteers are providing medical and rehabilitation care to the more than 55 sea lion pups that were found abandoned, malnourished, and in distress. The hope is to eventually return the animals back to the wild once they’ve recovered and regained a healthy weight while at the Channel Island Marine & Wildlife Institute.

"These pups are usually emaciated. They are founded stranded on the beach or just weak because they were either weened too early from their mother or maybe they are being out-competed for resources," said Sage Rosenbrock, veterinary technician at Shedd Aquarium.

Rosenbrock traveled to Santa Barbara to help rehabilitate the pups.

"We will give them fluids, give them antibiotics...some animals even come in with shark bite wounds so they are essentially admitted to the Center and then at that point they are getting dietary increases and we are just trying to get them to put on weight so they are eligible for release at the end of rehabilitation," she said.

“Our work is changing by the hour, and days are filled with several duties from prepping fish and facilitating feedings to performing checkups and administering medicine. By providing daily care for the rescued, non-releasable sea lions in our care at the aquarium, we’re able to apply this same knowledge and skill set to assist with the rehabilitation of these pups.”

Sage Rosenbrock, veterinary technician at Shedd Aquarium, administers IV fluids for a rescued California sea lion pup in a warming pool.
©Shedd Aquarium/Brenna Hernandez

The Channel Island Marine & Wildlife Institute said they get calls to rescue some 10 animals a day along the 150 miles of coastline.

“It’s all hands-on deck with over 55 pups in our facility, and calls reporting about 10 animals a day along 155 miles of coastline,” said Ruth Dover, director at CIMWI, in a statement. “Animals in the wild face increasing threats – many a result of human activity – and we are thankful for our dedicated volunteers, staff and partners like Shedd Aquarium who are helping us give these pups and adults a second chance at life.”

Feeding time for the for malnourished California sea lion pups at CIMWI.
©Shedd Aquarium/Brenna Hernandez

It is not just pups that are in need. Additional calls come in concerning adult sea lions exhibiting symptoms like confusion, head bobbing and weaving, lethargy and more due to a condition from high quantities of domoic acid released from toxic algae blooms, the Shedd said in a statement.

Rosenbrock said the crisis is due to climate change and nutrient pollution, that causes the explosive growth of the algal blooms. According to the Shedd, the blooms produce a neurotoxin that is consumed by filter-feeding fish like anchovies and sardines, but does not affect them and instead, "compounds up the food chain in a process called biomagnification.

"Marine mammals can suffer from domoic acid toxicosis with the severity dependent on the amount of toxic prey eaten. There is no cure or treatment, and at high levels, the toxin can be debilitating or even deadly; however, affected sea lions with lower levels of the toxin in their system can sometimes recover within 72 hours, so responders employ a variety of monitoring tactics and sometimes even set up perimeters around the animals to give them space to recuperate."

Sage Rosenbrock, veterinary technician at Shedd Aquarium, prepares IV fluids for the rescued California sea lion pups.
©Shedd Aquarium/Brenna Hernandez

In addition to caring for the admitted animals at CIMWI’s facility, Shedd’s Animal Response Team has staff on the coastline responding to CIMWI’s hotline calls about animals in distress.

“With a commitment to the welfare of animals – within the aquarium and around the world – we have a longstanding history of responding in times of urgent need,” said Peggy Sloan, chief animal operations officer at Shedd, in a statement. “This is an issue that is close to our hearts, having made a home at Shedd over the years for rescued sea lions like Laguna and Cruz. Our animal care team is always ready to grab their waders and medical kits when called upon to support the incredible work of our partners like CIMWI and make a positive impact on behalf of the aquatic world.”