Two northern elephant seal pups, malnourished and dehydrated, were slowly recovering Wednesday at a Laguna Beach marine mammal shelter after rescuers plucked them from the sand Tuesday afternoon in back-to-back rescue operations.
Mickey and Minnie--as they are called by their rescuers--were found Tuesday afternoon by Crystal Cove State Beach lifeguards, near Laguna Beach. The mammals, which can grow to a length of 16 feet and weigh up to 4 tons, were taken to safety by the Friends of the Sea Lion, a Laguna Beach group.
So far this year, with the addition of Mickey and Minnie, the Friends' center has treated nine elephant seals.
No Problem So Far
"We are watching it, but so far we are not overly panicked," said Friends director Judi Jones. "If we started getting two or three a week, I'd say that we would have a problem on our hands."
Jones said the center was involved in handling 10 elephant seals in 1988.
Jones noted that the elephant seals have not beached themselves in nearly the same numbers as have the California sea lions.
While a related member of the same class of marine mammal, the much smaller sea lion usually grows to a maximum length of 8 feet and does not weigh more than about 800 pounds, Jones said.
The sea lion captured the attention of marine wildlife preservationists lately when dozens of the animals have been found washed up dead or dying on area beaches--the apparent victims of fishermen's gill nets.
Pups Probably Separated
In this week's rescue, the lifeguards called the Friends center after they found the first pup. But by the time handlers had taken that seal to the center's Laguna Canyon facilities, the lifeguards called again, saying they had spotted another one a short distance from where the first one was captured.
"It was a little strange that we would find two within the same hour on the same day," said Jones, who estimated that the pups were 3 to 4 months old.
"Our theory is that somehow the pups got separated from their mothers and swam south. When we find them this young, they are usually suffering from exhaustion from swimming in rough waters, parasites and malnutrition," Jones said.
The two brown-and-gray-coated animals were being force-fed a fish-based formula laced with antibiotics and vitamins and allowed to rest in darkened holding areas at the center's airy barn.
The two new additions to the Friends' Center were being given the red-carpet treatment as handlers regularly changed their blankets while preparing the customized fish formula.
"By the time we get them back here they are very stressed out. Most won't eat, so we force-feed them a formula and then keep them in a dark and quiet area until they are ready to eat whole fish again and join the rest of the group," said Gary Hoffman, a center volunteer and animal rescue team member.
"It's the first 24 hours that are the most critical. If we can get them through that period, we have a good chance of saving them," Hoffman said. "I think that from the way we have seen Mickey and Minnie respond so far, they should have a good chance of making it."