SeaWorld, marine mammal center in same network

The Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach last week rescued an elephant seal pup in Seal Beach, which SeaWorld had rehabilitated.

Melissa Sciacca, director of development and marketing at the center, said the incident wasn't cause for concern.

The seal, named Safari, was found weighing 92 pounds at 5 months old, and was described as lethargic, with feathers in his mouth. The center is investigating what caused Safari to become stranded. A tag designated the pup as coming from SeaWorld San Diego, according to Sciacca.

"It's important to establish first off that it's normal to get each other's animals," Sciacca said, noting that SeaWorld occasionally picks up seals rehabilitated at the center, which serves the Orange County coast.

Last month, the center also picked up a seal from SeaWorld named Yahoo due to an abscess that needed medical attention.

Sciacca insisted that the rescues are more likely due to normal stresses of the wild and that March through June is considered a busy season for pups to become stranded.

"That has nothing to do with SeaWorld's ability to rehabilitate at all," she said.

Although there have been reports that SeaWorld released the pup underweight, Sciacca and Sea World spokesman David Koontz both pointed out that there is no weight standard for seal rehabilitation.

"The goal for any rescue program, whether it's ours or any of the programs along the coast, is to rehabilitate the animal sufficiently enough to live on its own," Koontz said. "Vets make the ultimate decision when the animal is healthy — mentally and physically."

The center has a target weight of around 150 pounds, but that isn't a strict standard. It depends on the maturity and rehabilitation of each patient, Sciacca said.

Koontz couldn't comment on Safari's specific case, but he said SeaWorld goes to great lengths to ensure the welfare of their animals at sea.

For example, they add fish to the pools in the rescue areas so they can demonstrate consistently that they can forage. They also return the seals to an area with the same species, which will also ensure that there is fish there for them to feed upon, Koontz said.

He said the case of Safari is not unusual and doesn't happen with great frequency.

Both Koontz and Sciacca said a seal can be stranded for a multitude of reasons that include illness, injury, abandonment as a pup, or lacking sufficient survival skills after being weaned.

Sciacca said she communicates frequently with SeaWorld. They are part of the same stranding network in the National Marine Fisheries Service and they share data, information and support each other's efforts.

"We have the same goal of setting these animals into the wild," she said.

Safari's progress can be tracked online at

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