Project: Emergency Response Tagging and Satellite Tracking for Rehabilitated Pinnipeds (California sea lions)

Since January 2013, elevated levels of malnourished sea lion pups and yearlings have been stranded on California beaches. More than 2,000 young sea lions have washed ashore in 2015 alone, too emaciated and dehydrated to care for themselves. Additionally, highly elevated numbers of Guadalupe fur seals, a species listed as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act, have also been noted. The unprecedented crisis has been declared an Unusual Mortality Event (UME), and rescue and rehabilitation networks are utilizing limited resources to respond.

Atlantic Marine Conservation Society worked with Pacific Marine Mammal Center, National Marine Fisheries Service, Fort MacArthur Marine Mammal Care Center, Channel Islands Marine Wildlife Institution, and Sea World San Diego to track rehabilitated sea lion pups and fur seals of all ages after release in order to ensure rescue efforts maximize long-term survival of California sea lions and Guadalupe fur seals.  While the direct and indirect causes of current elevated strandings are still under investigation, it is critical for rescue and rehabilitation programs to determine release success and long-term survival rates. This project was supported by the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation.


READ MORE ABOUT THIS PROJECT HERE.

Success Stories

Laura the California Sea Lion   Laura is a female sea lion that was rescued as a yearling from Cotton’s Point in San Clemente, CA on June 2, 2013. Emaciated and dehydrated, she spent 70 days in rehabilitation. Laura gained 25kg during this time and once deemed healthy, she was released back into the wild at Crescent Beach in Laguna, CA on August 11, 2013. Outfitted with an orange plastic Roto flipper tag with a unique identification number, we have been able to monitor her movements post-release, an invaluable tool to measure the success of rehabilitation efforts. Laura was observed three years later by a researcher in La Jolla Point. She was observed again in 2019, alert, vocalizing, and nursing her one year old pup, her newborn pup, and a third ‘adopted’ animal! She is a prime example of how tagging efforts can bring communities together, and get the public and other researchers involved in tracking animals.

Laura the California Sea Lion

Laura is a female sea lion that was rescued as a yearling from Cotton’s Point in San Clemente, CA on June 2, 2013. Emaciated and dehydrated, she spent 70 days in rehabilitation. Laura gained 25kg during this time and once deemed healthy, she was released back into the wild at Crescent Beach in Laguna, CA on August 11, 2013. Outfitted with an orange plastic Roto flipper tag with a unique identification number, we have been able to monitor her movements post-release, an invaluable tool to measure the success of rehabilitation efforts. Laura was observed three years later by a researcher in La Jolla Point. She was observed again in 2019, alert, vocalizing, and nursing her one year old pup, her newborn pup, and a third ‘adopted’ animal! She is a prime example of how tagging efforts can bring communities together, and get the public and other researchers involved in tracking animals.

Buzzi the California Sea Lion   Buzzi, a female California sea lion who was cared for and released in 2016 by Pacific Marine Mammal Center, provides a great story for this research project. Buzzi was rescued from Dana Point Harbor (and was very underweight, weighing only 47 pounds. She was nursed back to health and gained 40 pounds while receiving care. Buzzi was released on February 26, 2016 at Crystal Cove, CA with a satellite tag affixed to her back. She was observed at a haul out site in March 2016. The satellite tag was present and unencumbered. This sea lion was later observed at Dana Point, CA, a known haul out site, in July 2016 with fishing line tangled in the satellite tag. The last sighting of Buzzi occurred in September 2016, when Buzzi was again observed at Dana Point with other California Sea Lions. While the satellite tag was no longer attached to her fur, the area that the tag was attached to seem unaffected and the animal was in good body condition. This observation proved invaluable to the project, as Buzzi returned to the rescue site, was tracked to a known haul out site, and observed with conspecifics. This demonstrates that satellite tag attachment does not alter the animal’s natural behavior and implies that satellite tagging does not cause the animal any permanent impairments.

Buzzi the California Sea Lion

Buzzi, a female California sea lion who was cared for and released in 2016 by Pacific Marine Mammal Center, provides a great story for this research project. Buzzi was rescued from Dana Point Harbor (and was very underweight, weighing only 47 pounds. She was nursed back to health and gained 40 pounds while receiving care. Buzzi was released on February 26, 2016 at Crystal Cove, CA with a satellite tag affixed to her back. She was observed at a haul out site in March 2016. The satellite tag was present and unencumbered. This sea lion was later observed at Dana Point, CA, a known haul out site, in July 2016 with fishing line tangled in the satellite tag. The last sighting of Buzzi occurred in September 2016, when Buzzi was again observed at Dana Point with other California Sea Lions. While the satellite tag was no longer attached to her fur, the area that the tag was attached to seem unaffected and the animal was in good body condition. This observation proved invaluable to the project, as Buzzi returned to the rescue site, was tracked to a known haul out site, and observed with conspecifics. This demonstrates that satellite tag attachment does not alter the animal’s natural behavior and implies that satellite tagging does not cause the animal any permanent impairments.