GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Since January, some 1,400 young sea lions have been found stranded along the coast of California. Four of those orphaned sea lions have found a forever home in South Mississippi. Two of them arrived at the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport two weeks ago. They were also found sick, starving, and on the verge of death.
Maya and Gabby are the latest additions at IMMS. The female sea lions, only nine-months-old, are an amazing story of survival. They were found beached on the coast of Southern California dehydrated, starving, and left to fend for themselves.
"There's been an unprecedented mortality, some strandings going on in California. Hundreds and hundreds of animals have showed up," said IMMS Director Dr. Moby Solangi.
Since IMMS adopted both orphans two weeks ago, they have regained some of their strength and eating about five-pounds of fish a day. Trainers are also teaching them behavioral skills to build a bond. That's important, because the pups can never be returned to the wild.
"They'll be shark bait. They do not have the hunting skills. They don't have their mothers to help them," said Solangi.
Two other young female sea lions seem to be adjusting to their new home. Kaytee and Sage arrived at IMMS in late February.
"They're doing phenomenal. I think getting a great meal and getting a surrogate mother, you can't beat it," said Solangi.
Marine biologists are still baffled as to why the babies were abandoned by their mothers.
"I think the population has exploded and there's very little food available. There could be diseases, but nature is rejecting a large number of animals," said Solangi.
IMMS can accommodate up to ten sea lions. The facility is still on the top of the list to receive some more. The director hopes that next time, the sea lions will be males.
When asked if he wants the sea lions to start a family at IMMS, Solangi smiled and replied, "Absolutely, there's no question. We would like to have little baby sea lions."
For now, the focus is on making sure the animals make a full recovery. The two older ones should be ready for their first public appearance this summer.
"They're progressing really well. It takes a lot of time, young animals, especially those that are sick and malnourished," said Solangi. "They're great ambassadors of their species. Ultimately, they'll be an educational tool to make the public aware of the plight of these animals and make learning fun."
The two older sea lions should be ready to perform in mid-July. The younger ones will make their first public appearance sometime this fall.