After the "worst marine mammal stranding event in history" in Southern California, two California sea lions that were nursed back to health were released back into the ocean on Sunday.
The sea lions, Grace and Evanora, were given a send off party as they swam back into the waters of Laguna Beach. They were among 120 released back into the wild since a crisis saw a spike in the number of malnourished sea lion pups washing up on Southern California beaches this year.
"It was marvelous to see the animals go home again," said Melissa Sciacca, of the Pacific Marine Mammal Center.
The sea lions were released at Crescent Bay on the north end of Laguna Beach where Cliff Drive meets North Pacific Coast Highway.
The rescue group saw a spike in the number of sea lion pups coming ashore, suffering from severe malnourishment and starvation from January to April. Rescuers responded to more than 340 stranded animals -- 10 times more than the center had ever received.
At its peak, the group housed 167 sea lion pups at one time.
“It was the most catastrophic event we’ve ever seen,” said Keith Matassa, the executive director of the Pacific Marine Mammal Center. “We did everything we could to rescue each animal in need, and have been working tirelessly for the last 6 months to get them all well enough to return home.”
Grace was rescued on Feb. 26 from San Clemente. She weighed just 26 pounds, less than half of what she should have weighed. She was in such bad health that it took her more than two months before she was able to eat on her own.
Evanora was rescued March 13, also from San Clemente. She weighed just 22 pounds and suffered from starvation and cuts on her face.
Officials with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and other scientists are trying to figure out what caused the mass strandings.
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