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Photos: Rehabbed Sea Lions' Triumphant Return To The Ocean
Two sea lions who needed some serious TLC after being washed ashore this past spring were released back into the wild on Sunday in a feel-good moment worthy of a Disney movie.
"Grace" and "Evanora" came to the Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach in sorry shape as part of what the center calls "the worst marine mammal stranding event in history."
Starting in January, the center witnessed an increase in sea lion pups coming ashore, suffering from severe malnourishment and starvation. Over the next three months, they received more than 340 rescue calls, 10 times the normal amount, the center said via press release.
"Grace" was rescued on February 26 from San Clemente, weighing just 26 lbs, less than half of what she should have weighed. She was in such a critical condition that it took her more than two months before she was able to eat on her own. "Evanora" was rescued on March 13, also in San Clemente. She weighed just 22 lbs and suffered from starvation and lacerations on her face.
"It was the most catastrophic event we've ever seen," said Executive Director, Keith Matassa. "We did everything we could to rescue each animal in need, and have been working tirelessly for the last six months to get them all well enough to return home."
PMMC has returned more than 120 sea lions back to this ocean and this Sunday, it was Grace and Evanora's turn.
"It was marvelous to see the animals go home again," Melissa Sciacca, Director of Development at PMMC told NBC News.
The sea lions were released at Crescent Bay on the north end of Laguna Beach where Cliff Drive meets North Pacific Coast Highway.
One previously released patient, "Roscoe," is doing well, the PMMC reports. He's been spotted off Newport, thanks to a small tag on his flipper that lets the center tag him.
Matassa says, "We were pleased to see Roscoe doing so well in the wild. He's been on his own now for a few months, and the fact that he looks healthy and has a good weight indicates that he is doing well out there, and that our efforts are allowing him to be successful."
PMMC is still going through more than 300 lbs of fish a day for the rescues. You can help support them at their site.