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Marine mammal strandings reach record pace

The Laguna Beach-based Pacific Marine Mammal Center is reporting an unusually busy year for stranded marine mammals. To date in 2009, the center has treated 172 animals; numbers that have not been seen since the mass stranding event of 2002. This year is on pace to be a record-breaking year, since in 2008 the total number of animals treated for the whole year was 187.

The majority of the animals stranding are California sea lion pups. So far this year, 115 sea lions have been rescued, a number that is 131% higher than at the same time last year. According to National Marine Fisheries Services, the cause is not yet known as to the reason behind the significant increase in ailing animals.

“Right now we are just trying to do everything we can to care for as many marine mammals as possible and do our best to stabilize them,” said Michele Hunter, Director of Animal Care.

With so many seals and sea lions in need of care, the Center is at the point where difficult decisions need to be made. Because all of the pens and pools are at full capacity, including temporary makeshift pens that have been constructed along hallways and in lab testing rooms, the center is only able to bring in animals that are in dire need of medical attention. Last night, medical staff and volunteers were at the Center until midnight trying to stabilize a baby Pacific harbor seal in critical condition. Today the harbor seal is doing well.

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Having more than 90 animals in house means that resources are stretched thin, and the center staff appreciate any and all public support they receive.

“Making a donation or becoming a member of Pacific Marine Mammal Center will help provide the necessary funds needed to purchase fish and medication, which is critical to each animal’s chance of survival,” said Melissa Sciacca, Director of Development/Marketing for the Center. “Since we are the only licensed marine mammal rescue in the entire Orange County area, the task of responding to each animal in need and financially supporting their recovery rests entirely on our shoulders.”

Pacific Marine Mammal Center is a nonprofit organization with a mission to rescue, medically treat, and rehabilitate pinnipeds and cetaceans that strand along the Orange County coastline due to injury or illness; to release healthy marine mammals back to their natural habitat while preserving species diversity; and to increase public awareness of the marine environment through education and research.

Pacific Marine Mammal Center is at 20612 Laguna Canyon Road. The center and gift shop are open to the public from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. For more information, call (949) 494-3050 or visit www.pacificmmc.org

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