Rescue + Rehab + Release

Fishing Nets


If a Seal or Sea lion appears to be sick, injured, or in distress, you can best help MMCC LA by:

Be prepared to provide:

  • The location and condition of animal.
  • Caution: Keep your distance and observe the animal from binocular range. You are too close if the animal is watching you.

Once a rescue team arrives, hold all questions until after they have assessed the situation.

All pinnipeds come out of the ocean to rest and sun themselves as a normal healthy activity. Therefore, not all animals on beach require medical attention.

However, ANY dolphin or whale that has become beached or stranded will need immediate assistance.

  • Do not approach or touch a dolphin or whale; it is against the law to disturb them, and they may bite if they feel threatened. Marine mammals are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972.
  • Do not push, chase or coax the animal back into the water.
  • Do not pour water on the animal. Pouring water on it may only further serve to debilitate a sick or injured animal.
  • Do not feed. Feeding the animal something other than what it is accustomed to may lead to illness and even death.


Arrival Of Rescued Seals and Sea Lions

Examination of each patient begins before removal from the transport carrier. A quick evaluation is made to assess the physical and mental status of the animal as well as the size of the animal. This information helps the team prepare to admit the animal safely. At the same time, rescue personnel provide a history of the rescue and the condition of the animal as observed at the rescue site.

Team members evaluate the animal to determine the species, gender, age, length, weight, physical and mental condition of the animal. The physical examination in combination with a blood and fecal analysis provide the basic health parameters that help determine the initial course of treatment. Additional diagnostic evaluations such as radiographs may be performed at a later time or under anesthesia, once the animal is physiologically stable. Dehydration and malnutrition are common problems.

Veterinary staff creates an identification number for each patient and then puts the number on a patient by:

  • Shaving a temporary mark in the animal’s fur (known as a Farrell number)
  • Tagging
  • Using a grease pencil marker to apply a color code.

Sometimes we use all three methods. MMCC LA does not name its patients. Instead, they are referred to by the unique number assigned during intake.

Medical Treatment of Seals and Sea Lions

Each animal receives a medical record where the daily status of the animal is recorded, including nutrition intake and notable changes in behavior. This information is important when assessing how animals are housed within the facility and when they are ready to move to the next step in the rehabilitation process. Initially our interaction with the animal may be labor intensive including physical restraint for feedings and medications. But as the animal regains normal health and strength the team is hands-off, and the animal interacts with people less and less. At no point are members of the general public allowed to interact with the animals.

Providing a clean and stress-reduced environment is paramount!


Our goal is to return our patients to the ocean as soon as possible. This takes place as soon as a patient recovers from its illness, injury or malnutrition. Our attending veterinarian must clear each patient for release.

Criteria for release are established by National Marine Fisheries Service. Parameters for release include weight gain, resolution of medical conditions that caused the animal to become stranded, ability to compete for food, blood parameters, and an overall assessment of the animal’s readiness to return to the ocean.

Release criteria at the beach include an assessment of tide, weather and wave conditions. While animals are expected to be able to navigate the ocean environment upon release, we take into consideration the fact that for young animals a brief transition period may occur when returning to the ocean.

Occasionally a seal or sea lion is unable to feed itself due to blindness or other mobility issue. Thus, MMCC LA works with National Fisheries Service to find a long-term home for this type of dependent patient.

Donors can support the release of a healthy patient back into the ocean, or a dependent patient finding a new home.  Please review information on how to Associate Your Name With Our Mission.


Released seals and sea lions have been sighted as far away as San Diego to the south and Monterey, Marin and Humboldt counties to the north.

“Marino” California Sea Lion #13-091

Prior to release, each patient receives a small orange roto tag in the front flipper possessing a unique number. These tags may remain with the animal for years; reports of tagged animals provide information about survival and location. However, reading the tag number requires close proximity to the animal. To obtain more detailed post release information, satellite tracking is used.

“Marino” California Sea Lion #13-091

California Sea Lion “Marino”(Zalophus californianus) #13-091, was admitted as a pup, during the 2013 California Sea Lion Unusual Mortality Event (UME). She was released on August 16, 2013, with flipper tag #27873, as well as a satellite tag. While under sedation, the satellite tag was adhered to the fur. The tag transmits details about the animal, her travels and post release survival. It will fall off when she goes though her annual molt. Battery life and position of the orbiting satellite determine the length of time and amount of data that can be collected.

MMCC Los Angeles

Dr. Lauren Palmer, Marine Mammal Care Center LA, and Keith Matassa, Pacific Marine Mammal Center, secure the satellite tag while Marino is monitored under sedation. (see photo left)

Satellite tags are too cost prohibitive to be used on a large scale, but we are hoping to tag additional animals in the future. This effort was made possible through a collaborative effort between: the Marine Mammal Care Center LA in San Pedro, CA; the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation in Riverhead, NY; the Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach, CA; and, our generous donor, Patricia Cornwell.

Check out her travels since being released at White Point beach in San Pedro, CA. Initially, Marino headed north, then west out to the Channel Islands, spending a few weeks around Anacapa Island. After a few months of going between the Channel Islands and the Los Angeles/Ventura County line, she headed south to LA’s South Bay Area. As of the last transmission, Marino continues her journey southward into San Diego County. During this time, she has traveled over 1,200 miles along more than 48 miles of Southern California coastline.

MMCC Los Angeles

Map generated by Robert A. DiGiovanni Jr., Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation.


Marine Mammal Care Center Los Angeles collaborates with scientists from around the country to conduct non-invasive research.

Post Release Monitoring is conducted using externally attached satellite tags.

Scientific Publications

Prager KC, Grieg DJ, Alt DP, Galloway RL. Hornsby RL, Palmer L, Soper J, Wu Q, Zuerner RL, Gulland FM, Lloyd-Smith JO. Asymptomatic and chronic carriage of Leptospira interrogans serovar Pomona in California sea lion (Zalophus californianus). Vet Microbiol 2013 May 31;164(1-2):177-83.doi:10.1016/j.vetmic.2013.01.032.Epup2013 Feb 4.

Wael KA, Smodlaka H, Leach-robinson L, Palmer L, Skin histology and its role in heat dissipation in three pinniped species. Acta Veterinaria Scandinavica 2012, 54:46. doi:10.1186/1751-0147-54-46

Smodlaka H, Khamas W, Tkalcic S,  Golub T, Palmer L, Histological Assessment of Selected Blood Vessels of the Phocid Seals (Northern Elephant and Harbour Seals). Anatomia Histologia Embryologia Journal of Veterinary Medicine. Jan 2010: 1-8. doi:10.111/j.1439-0264.2010.00994.x

Lloyd-Smith J O, Grieg DJ,  Ghneim G , Hietala S, Palmer L,  St. Leger  J, Grenfell B, Gulland FMD, Cyclical changes in seroprevalence of leptospirosis in California sea lions: endemic and epidemic disease in one host species? BMC Infectious Diseases 2007; 7: 125.

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