Rescue Sea Lions


Park Answers Call of Pacific Marine Mammal Center to Find Sanctuary for Niblet and Brawler— Last Two Stranded by Unusual Mortality Event

Sea Life Park Hawaii announces it is taking in two California sea lions in need of lifelong care. Following an intricate and carefully managed transport from the Pacific Marine Mammal Center (PMMC) in Laguna Beach, CA, and a required 30-day quarantine period, Niblet and Brawler are now finding permanent sanctuary on Oahu.

In 2017, the two female sea lions were rescued separately a few months apart by PMMC, and quickly bonded together during the course of their recovery and rehabilitation process. Niblet was found suffering from extreme malnutrition, while Brawler had a severe infection of the cornea in both eyes. After their respective rescues and treatments, both Niblet and Brawler were subsequently returned to the wild in separate releases—only to have each one need to be rescued again by the non-profit. Deemed un-releasable by the National Marine Fisheries Service, a division of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the sea lions continued to be cared for by PMMC. However, with the facility designed for short-term needs, PMMC placed a call out to partner facilities qualified to care for pinnipeds. Especially suited to assist, Sea Life Park stepped in to provide a home in Hawaii for both sea lions.

“From sea lions to seabirds and more, the Park has had a long history of providing animal rehabilitation, as well as for long-term care for animals that are ultimately unable to be released back into the wild,” said Sea Life Park General Manager, Valerie King. “Niblet and Brawler have made a remarkable journey towards healing with the help of the Pacific Marine Mammal Center, and we are delighted to support PMMC’s incredible work and that of our extended marine conservation community.

During the years 2013-2017—just as Niblet and Brawler were facing their challenges—more pups and yearlings than usual were stranded in Southern California. Possibly incited by an unusual El Niño year, the situation prompted NOAA to declare an Unusual Mortality Event, or UME—an important indicator signaling potential larger marine environment issues. While total California sea lion populations have surged under the important protections of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, competition for food, challenges from the fishing industry, environmental changes, marine debris, parasites and more have contributed to the increasing vulnerability, malnourishment, and death of pups and juveniles.

“With the complex challenges facing sea lions, starvation or euthanasia tragically often awaits animals such as Niblet and Brawler,” said Sea Life Park Curator Jeff Pawloski, who was instrumental in the logistics of the sea lions’ arrival at the Park, as well as in developing a long-term care plan. “Yet thanks to the efforts of tireless organizations like PMMC, the work of agencies such as NOAA and the Department of Agriculture, and the expert veterinary teams that all came together to help ensure a seamless transport and quarantine with round-the-clock care, these two amazing animals have a new lease on life. Niblet and Brawler can not only help us to share awareness for the plight of their kind, but also offer a wonderful reminder of how we all can make a difference.”

These two California Sea Lions came to live the rest of their lives at Sea Life Park as the park is a refuge for certain non-releasable marine life under our permits. They are now important ambassadors to continue to raise awareness on the current plight of California Sea Lions and the dire situations they face. Sea Life Park is not only a place for learning and discovery but also a refuge for monk seals, seabirds, turtles, and other marine life. The parks experienced animal care team makes the facility a wonderful place to take care of animals like this for the remainder of their lives. Niblet and Brawler help Sea Life Park fulfill our core mission-to inspire conservation leadership by connecting people with wildlife and nature. Niblet and Brawler will help teach people how their own actions affect the environment. They learn to make small changes like eating sustainable seafood that wasn’t caught in a way that harms other sea life or isn’t depleted or using less single-use plastics like straws, water bottles and plastic bags or safely disposing of your fishing gear.

Niblet and Brawler were each given Hawaiian nicknames as a warm welcome to Hawaii. Nicknames were developed based on characteristics and behavior by the kindergarten class of Malama Honua Public Charter School. Niblet was given the Hawaiian name Li’i which means “little one” due to her small size when found and Brawler was given the Hawaiian name Kupa’a which means “to stand strong” due to the fight she put up to survive. The two are out on exhibit now at the Sea Lion Nursery Pool which features some very natural features such as sculptured rock work, algae, crustaceans and fish.

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