Two sea lions returned to the Pacific Ocean at Leffingwell Landing on Thursday, with the help of the Marine Mammal Center and about a dozen volunteers.
The animals, dubbed Socks and Bebbles, had been rescued along the Central Coast in mid-October and had spent the past two weeks in rehabilitation before they were ready to venture back into the waves.
“Down here, we don’t do them very often, “ Aubrey St. Marie said of the releases. “I think this is the second one this summer, but before that, it’s been a couple of years since we had one here.”
St. Marie, who has been involved with the Marine Mammal Center for 10 years, began serving as interim site manager during the summer and took the job permanently a week ago. She oversaw Thursday’s releases.
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The guests of honor, riding in large carriers, arrived at Moonstone Beach via pickup truck about 1:30 p.m. the day before Halloween, then were driven down the ramp to the beach near the bridge.
Volunteers were equipped with wooden boards, that looked a little like boogie boards, stationed on either side of the animal carriers before the doors were opened. Their task was to direct the animals gently toward the sea.
Bebbles went first and only stopped briefly in making a beeline toward the small breaking waves.
The yearling female had been found on a staircase at a public beach in Monterey County and was deemed undernourished. She looked full of energy on Thursday, though, dashing out of the carrier as soon as the gate was opened.
Socks was a little more tentative. The subadult (2- to 5-year-old) female had been found Oct. 13 at Morro Rock, her mouth and neck snared in fish netting. St. Marie directed the board-carrying volunteers to take a couple of steps forward as a means of urging Socks into the Pacific.
“It’s hard to tell what they’re thinking,” St. Marie said. “Sometimes they just need a little encouragement from us to get back out in the water.”
A yearling male named Orchard had also been scheduled for release Oct. 30, but the Marine Mammal Center determined he wasn’t yet feeling well enough to return to the sea.
St. Marie said the mammal center can rescue animals for a variety of reasons, including bacterial infection, wounds, trauma and maternal separation. Sea lions are the most common patients. Both Socks and Bebbles were treated at the center’s Sausalito hospital before being released.
It was a busy summer at the rescue center, which had tended to at least 84 sea lions, 63 elephant seals and five harbor seals by early July. But things have calmed down quite a bit since then, St. Marie said.
“Right now, it’s been a quieter season,” she said. “It’s definitely what we call our slower season.”