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May Get Marineland Sick, Injured Sea Mammals : Laguna Center Awaits Influx

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Times Staff Writer

The closure of Marineland may have a profound effect on a small, nonprofit group of animal benefactors operating out of a red barn in Laguna Canyon, group members said Thursday.

At the moment, only two sea lions and four elephant seals are being cared for at Laguna Beach’s Marine Mammal Center, one of only a handful of facilities that now care for injured sea lions in Southern California.

Marineland on the Palos Verdes Peninsula closed its doors to the public on Thursday and is expected to move out all the aquatic creatures and marine mammals by the end of this month. Now, most of the patients that would have gone to Marineland are expected to be taken instead to the red barn along Laguna Canyon Road, said officials for the center, which is run by the Friends of the Sea Lion.

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“Marineland had facilities to handle more than 200 sick or injured ocean mammals,” said Karin Wyman, curator at the Laguna Beach center. “We’re probably the next closest place to accept such creatures, and we can take only a maximum of about 70.”

“It looks like maybe we could be bombarded one of these days,” Wyman said Thursday.

Bill Ford, administrative director of the center which operates on a budget of about $60,000 and a staff of about 40 volunteers, said he was told by a Marineland spokesman that any animals under treatment there after March 1--whether 10 or 60--would be transferred to Laguna Beach.

The center was organized in 1971 to provide medical care for injured marine mammals. Originally, the center was in the backyard of Laguna Beach lifeguard Jim Stauffer, a founding member of Friends of the Sea Lion. Now housed in the red barn next to the Laguna Beach Animal Shelter, it is equipped with pools and other facilities to handle the seals, sea lions, elephant seals and an occasional dolphin rescued at area beaches.

Ford predicted Thursday that “starting March 2, animals picked up on any beaches between here and Ventura County probably will come to us. It’s going to cost us a lot of money.”

So far, however, nature and the elements have been kind this winter.

“Right now we’re in the midst of what is called the stranding season, the time of year when the most seals and sea lions and other ocean mammals get sick and come ashore,” said Dana Seagals, wildlife biologist for the National Marine Fisheries Service. “But this year, there have been no great storms, no stress on the animals.”

He said that while an increased number of ill and injured animals might end up at Laguna Beach in the future, there are alternatives, such as the Santa Barbara Marine Mammal Center and the Los Angeles County animal control department.

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One other haven for stricken sea mammals is at Sea World in San Diego County, and although distance is a factor, it has facilities for up to 300 animals, spokeswoman Jackie Hill said.

“We will accept any animal that is legally transported by persons properly authorized by the National Marine Fisheries Service,” Hill said. “We have only a few sick animals right now,” he said and added that Sea World is caring for two former residents of Marineland, the killer whales Orky and Corky.

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