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Nature conservationist takes on sea lion mystery

Jeff Corwin brings his television show to Laguna's mammal center, where number of sick pups has baffled experts.

May 16, 2013|By Bryce Alderton
  • Wildlife conservationist and "Ocean Mysteries" host and producer Jeff Corwin gathers a group of sea lions together to move them to a feeding station where he helped attend to the many sick sea lions and shot an episode for his series at the Pacific Marine Mammal Center.
Wildlife conservationist and "Ocean Mysteries"… (Don Leach, Coastline…)

Jeff Corwin has done television segments on sea lions before, but not like the one he just wrapped up earlier this week at Laguna Beach's Pacific Marine Mammal Center.

"It's a perfect ocean mystery for us. It really is an ocean mystery," Corwin said Tuesday at the center, which has treated hundreds of malnourished and dehydrated sea lion pups this year.

Corwin, the witty and funny TV producer and nature conservationist, helped feed, diagnose, evaluate and assist center personnel while crews filmed an episode for the third season of Emmy Award-nominated series "Ocean Mysteries with Jeff Corwin."

Sea lion yelps filled the late afternoon air as Corwin wrapped up for the day.

"California pinnipeds really strike a powerful tone with people," Corwin said. "We see a lot of ourselves in them. When we see them distressed, something perhaps is wrong with our ecosystem."

What's causing sea lions to become sick in Southern California remains a mystery, Corwin said.

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Unprecedented numbers of emaciated sea lions have flooded the center — which serves all of Orange County — since January.

The mammal center declared a state of emergency in March, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Fisheries department called the mass strandings an "unusual mortality event."

The center counted 130 sea lions in its care after staff released two into the ocean Wednesday, said Melissa Sciacca, its marketing and development director.

Orange County admitted 293 sea lions from January to April 14, compared with 31 admitted during the same period in 2012, according to the NOAA website.

The mammal center is seeing progress.

Many of the sea lions have started eating fish — Sciacca said they are going through 650 pounds daily — to help the animals reach the target release weight of 60 to 70 pounds.

Many sea lions arrive at the enter at one-third of their normal weight, Sciacca said.

"[The sea lions] are so depleted of protein and all nutrients, it takes two to four months to get them where they need to be," she said.

Corwin heard about the record number of sea lions being admitted to the Pacific Marine Mammal Center a month ago when he visited to work on a separate television project with chef Jamie Oliver.

He knew immediately what he wanted to do.

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