So long, thanks for all the fish! Marine mammals are out for the season.

Courtney Dunn
November 7, 2022

We receive a lot of questions, especially around this time of year, regarding where the marine mammals have gone. Let’s talk about it!

We receive a lot of questions, especially around this time of year, regarding where the marine mammals camera has gone. Many miss seeing the charismatic sea lions – excitedly swimming around their pool. Don’t worry – we do as well! But, not seeing them is actually a very good thing!

Unlike the rest of our habitats, the marine mammal camera, hosted at the Pacific Marine Mammal Center, features exclusively rescued and rehabilitated animals. The camera is off when there are no animals currently going through rehabilitation at the center aka they have been released back into the wild.

Let’s talk about what that means!

Early Beginnings

The Pacific Marine Mammal Center is a non-profit organization which rescues, rehabilitates, and releases marine mammals and inspires ocean stewardship through research, education, and collaboration. The center didn’t start out how it is now, though. Before it was an official organization or center, it was the passion project of one dedicated individual – Jim Stauffer.

Jim Stauffer, who was working as a lifeguard at the time, discovered a young Pacific harbor seal when working on Newport beach in 1971. After nursing it back to health, others soon started to recognize Stauffer’s passion for rehabilitating marine mammals and soon began bringing more injured or ill ones to him.

California sea lions swimming around one of the Pacific Marine Mammal Center’s rehabilitation pool.

PMMC is Born!

The Pacific Marine Mammal Center then began as Friends of the Sea Lion in 1971 with only three volunteers: Jim Stauffer, John Cunningham and Dr. Rose Ekeberg. The Department of Fish and Game issued the first permit of its kind in California. Jim was allowed to temporarily house seals and sea lions at his home. With the organization growing quickly, a facility other than Jim’s home and pool was necessary. At that time, the local SPCA was using a barn owned by the city of Laguna Beach. In 1976, when the SPCA relocated, the building was offered to the Pacific Marine Mammal Center. Jim Stauffer, John Cunningham and a few volunteers began renovation of the barn that still functions today as the Center’s rehabilitation hub.

The Pacific Marine Mammal Center was recently a temporary home for two elephant seals – Teton and Poly. Both have sense fully recovered and have been released back to the wild.


Marine mammals need to be rescued for a variety of reasons. Some you may already be familiar with from other wildlife rescue scenarios such as infections, malnourishment, or injuries. For seals and sea lions, they also face the threat of gill net strangulation, plastic ingestion, oil spills, or a variety of other ocean related threats. All of these greatly harm an animal’s chance for survival.

There is also a bit of seasonality to this – with more marine mammals needing rescue in late winter and early spring. Strandings are more likely as pups are born as well as they get separated from their mothers or become ill.

Unlike whales and dolphins, seals and sea lions don’t have to remain in the water to survive. You can often find these species sunning themselves throughout the day on a variety of surfaces. They will also beach themselves when feeling ill to help with warmth and being dry. This is when rescue workers have an opportunity to catch and rescue ill or injured animals.


When a patient is rescued and admitted to the center, the staff performs all the necessary intake procedures to determine cause of illness or injury. This also includes establishing a treatment plan as outlined by the procedures and protocols set & directed by the Animal Care Director and the Veterinary Medical Director. Throughout an animal’s time at the center, rehabilitation could include a variety of treatments including administration of antibiotics, fluids, or other medicines as well as even force feeding, tube feeding, or even wound care. The food provided to the animals includes a healthy mix of protein types as well as electrolytes and vitamins.


Rehabilitation time can vary depending on the severity of the reason why an animal is admitted to the center. Release is only planned after an animal is fully covered. The center looks for a multitude of signs to help determine if an animal has reached this level – such as, but not limited to, being at an optimal weight and actively competing for food.

Prior to release, every animal at the center is tagged with an identification number. These color-coded tags help communicate to others outside of the center that the animal has been rehabilitated. It also helps identify the specific animal should the center need to step in to assist the animal again in the future.

Three California sea lions resting together outside of a pool.

“Thanks for All the Fish!”

It is the goal of the Pacific Marine Mammal Center to release every animal that comes into the center and is made healthy again. Because of this, there are time periods where the center may not have any patients at all. This typically happens in the late Fall/early winter and continues into early Spring. During this time, the marine mammal camera will be off and a special message will appear informing our community of this change.

You can tune in to see their newest rescues when the stranding season resumes in late winter/early spring. In the meantime, you can continue exploring Zoolife to learn more about PMMC’s ocean and marine mammal conservation mission through past recorded expert talks and clips taken by our community.

Want to help support Zoolife’s partners and learn about animal behavior from the comfort of your own home? Visit Zoolife today to support them through a Zoolife subscription!