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Sea lions to say goodbye

Laguna Beach’s favorite sea lion “couple” will soon bid adieu, flipper in flipper.

Makia and Alto, two sea lion pups who were rescued by the Pacific Marine Mammal Center in November, will return to their natural habitat at 9:30 a.m. Saturday at Crescent Bay.

Michele Hunter, director of operations and animal care at the center, said caretakers and sponsors thought Valentine’s Day would be most appropriate to celebrate the pair’s release.

“They are inseparable,” she said. “We will miss their antics, but are happy they are doing so well and can return home.”

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The pups were rescued in Huntington Beach, just 10 days apart, after lifeguards reported them to authorities.

“Alto had climbed up a lifeguard tower and was found sleeping there,” Hunter said.

Both sea lions were 5 months old at the time of rescue, and were in poor health.

Makia was malnourished at only 30 pounds, and suffered from coughing and nasal discharge. After two weeks of antibiotics and tube feedings, Hunter said he was well enough to eat on his own.

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Alto was also undernourished, and had an infection in his right eye, which caretakers treated with medication. It was only a week before he developed a healthy appetite and opted for fishy delicacies over tube-fed smoothies.

Hunter said the pups, who just happened to be placed inside the same pen, immediately became buddies.

“They would suckle on each other, and each would holler for the other when one was taken away [for feedings or weigh-ins],” she said.

Since their initial bond, she said, they must always maintain some form of contact.

“When one is tired [on the deck] and the other is still playing in the pool, the one on the deck will stick his flipper in the water while the other continues to play,” she said.

Hunter said the sea lions were named after their sponsors. Alto’s sponsor, Greg Altomari, also has a special story.

“Greg visited the center about two years ago and fell in love with the animals. For the last four years, he has been fighting an aggressive form of cancer and fights to live every day. We named Alto after Greg hoping to pass along Greg’s fighting spirit to the little sea lion, and it worked. Alto, after a rough start, is now the picture of health and is expected to live a full life back in his ocean home. Also, Greg’s health and spirit have soared as a result of being connected to this very special little sea lion,” she said.

The mammal center is a Laguna Beach nonprofit established in 1971 whose mission is to rescue, medically treat and rehabilitate stranded marine mammals, prior to releasing them back into their natural habitat. The center also aims to raise awareness and educate the public about the marine environment.

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The Pacific Marine Mammal Center is currently caring for 28 sea lions in-house, and expect to get more as a result of recent storms.

For information, call (949) 494-3050 or visit www.pacificmmc.org.



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