The cacophony of cackling and squawking northern elephant seals is louder this year at the California Wildlife Center in Calabasas, thanks to the installment of a three-foot deep pool and other additions that have allowed the center to double the number of rescues.
The nonprofit wildlife rescue's volunteers are feeding and caring for 13 northern elephant seals, up from six last year, Michael Remski, a marine mammal rehabilitation manager, told Video News West.
Last year, the center took in the six as hundreds and hundreds of sea lion and dozens of northern elephant seal pups stranded themselves as part of an unusual "mortality event," according to Remski. The center set up an emergency facility, with shallow, 100-gallon kiddie pools, but now have a more permanent set-up.
"This year we have a three-foot-deep, 1,100 gallon pool, which is a lot better for free-feeding," Remski said. "We can actually prove that the animals can dive, swim and get the fish off the bottom, giving us a good indication they can survive on their own."
The pool also gives them room to swim, play and cool off from the heat in Malibu Canyon.
"Most importantly, it proves to us they can compete with each other for food," he said.
This year's 13 rescued northern elephant seals were born sometime in January and were extremely underweight and dehydrated when rescued at the end of March in Malibu.
"When you find a northern elephant seal on the beach in Southern California, it is normally lost and starving," Remski said.
The seals, which should be between 200 to 300 pounds, were only about 75 pounds, he said.
"This is the season where the pups start to venture away from mom, go out on their own," Remski said, "and this is when the ones that aren't really good at doing well without mom ... are the ones that strand, and these are the ones we rescue."
The center, which before 2013 focused mainly on rehabilitating birds and wildlife in the Santa Monica Mountains, is fulfilling a dream of Remski's to rescue the northern elephant seals, he said. The seals have big, dark eyes, with females growing up to 900-1,800 pounds and males reaching 3,000-5,000 pounds.
A few of the seals are reaching a weight of 150 pounds and could be ready for release within a few weeks, but it will be dependent on their health, according to Remski.
For now, volunteers are feeding the seals three and up to four times a day, eating 26 pounds of fish per feed and up to two liters of gruel for those that are still transitioning to fish. The center has to disinfect and wash off the entire facility daily into a septic system because parts of Malibu Canyon do not have a sewer, making the care expensive, Remski said.
The center, which is located on State Park land off Piuma Road, is looking for a new location in the Malibu area so it can provide even more rescue services, he said.
The largest colonies of the northern elephant seals are found off Southern California in the Channel Islands.
Up north this year, an unusually large number of northern elephant seals have been stranding on beaches, reaching a 30-year record for the Northcoast Marine Mammal Center in Crescent City.
Both the California Wildlife Center and the Northcoast Marine Mammal Center are part of a network of more than 100 organizations permitted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to rescue marine mammals.
The CWC's volunteers also pick up additional rescues in Malibu and drive them to the rescue center in San Pedro.
If anyone sees a northern elephant seal stranded on a beach in Malibu, they should stay away and give the animal space before calling the California Wildlife Center at (310) 458-9453.
--City News Service