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Rescuers See Spike in Sick Sea Lion Pups on Local Beaches

More than 100 sick and starving sea lion pups have washed ashore from Seal Beach to San Onofre recently.

Starving, sluggish and covered in tar, the sea lion pup dubbed Rigby tried to hide from rescuers by planting himself inside a flowerpot.

The malnourished pup was one of more than 100 to wash up on Orange County beach’s near death recently.

The Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Canyon has noticed an increase in the number of severely dehydrated and malnourished sea lion pups requiring care this year, prompting the organization to put out a call today for help from donors and volunteers.

The center is currently caring for 40 malnourished sea lions, compared with six at this same time a year ago, said the PMMC's director of development, Melissa Sciacca.

The center's operators, however, are not too concerned because they experienced a similar increase in 2009, Sciacca said.

"It's a little early for us to be worried," she said. "It's definitely more than last year, but it does tend to fluctuate ... We're waiting to see how next month goes."

The sick sea lions are coming in from up and down the coast in Orange County, from Seal Beach to San Onofre, Sciacca said, adding it's unclear what's behind the lack of nourishment.

One of the center's volunteers, Wendy Leeds, rescued Rigby from the flower pot on a residence deck in Capistrano Beach about three weeks ago, Sciacca said. The sea lion weighed just 30 pounds and had patches of tar on him.

“A couple had said he had been sleeping on their patio deck all day long, and when he saw my net, he tried to hide inside the flower pot,” said Leeds.”

“He’s clam, not as loud and as feisty as the other ones,” said Leed. “But he just progressed to eating fish and is doing better.”

"He's still in intensive care, but making progress every day," Sciacca added.

The PMMC has treated up to 107 sea lion pups at a time, so "we're fully prepared to handle more if need be," Sciacca said.

The Pacific Marine Mammal Center accepts volunteers to help clean and prepare fish for the sea lions and help educate visitors about marine life and the effects of pollution. They also need sponsors to help buy meals for the rescued marine life.

-- City News Service contributed to this report.

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