This Starving Sea Lion Pup Somehow Spent the Night in a Diner. Her Story: It’s a Heart Warmer

The Marine Room cleaning staff showed up early in the morning, long before the first customers would arrive at the popular San Diego seaside eatery. Little did they know, though, that the restaurant’s best ocean-view table was already booked by a totally unexpected breakfast customer – a starving little sea lion pup who was to be appropriately nicknamed Marina. But this way-too-cute sunrise discovery was just the beginning of Marina’s inspiring story…

If Marina had been a paying customer at The Marine Room, she couldn’t have picked a better spot at which to spend the night. In fact, the napping sea lion pup was found snuggled up in one of the upscale restaurant’s best ocean-view booths.

However, it was quickly apparent that this tiny baby sea lion could use some of the items off the gourmet eatery’s menu far more than any of the La Jolla restaurant’s usual customers could. And then some.

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The restaurant staff called SeaWorld’s animal rescue team, who nicknamed the sea lion after the restaurant and determined that she was a “micro pup,” meaning she was extremely underweight. Tipping the scales at an emaciated 20 pounds, eight-month-old Marina should have actually weighed a healthy 40 to 50 pounds at her age.

SeaWorld rescuers said the starving sea lion pup was likely looking not only for food, but also for high ground and a warm spot to hole up in for the night so as to withstand a Southern California stormy weather period. It’s no wonder the exhausted Marina felt ready for a nap when she stumbled upon the charming seaside restaurant.

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No one seems to know exactly how the resourceful little sea lion pup managed to sneak her way into the upscale eatery for her overnight refuge. Not that Marina minded the mystery surrounding her entrance.

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Upon discovering the unexpected customer, the cleaning staff called Bernard Guillas, the restaurant’s executive chef. “I remember the call was, ‘We have a sea lion in the restaurant,’” Guillas said to TV reporters. He responded to the call as though the staff was joking, with the exchange going something like this: “Are you kidding me? How big is it? ‘It’s a small one,’ What do you mean a small one?” The restaurant workers then called animal rescue experts at nearby San Diego SeaWorld to help the eatery’s ailing visitor.

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The animal rescue workers certainly had their work cut out for them, too. In addition to being grossly underweight and severely dehydrated, Marina was also found to have an injury to her left eye that had left it puffed up and closed.

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Rescue workers took Marina back to the SeaWorld’s animal rehabilitation center. Here they immediately started her on fluids to treat her severe dehydration and dressed her injured eye.

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They then spent the next eight weeks nursing the malnourished seal pup back to fighting form with a steady diet of fish and meds – not that the fight had ever left Marina. SeaWorld rescue worker Jody Westberg described her as a “feisty, sassy animal” from the start.

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Luckily it’s that very “feisty” energy that showed the SeaWorld rescue team Marina would have all the right stuff for survival. Westberg told ABC News, “That’s why I know she’s going to do great, and she’s going to thrive out in the wild.”

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Thriving in today’s Pacific Ocean is becoming quite a challenge for sea lions. Changing weather conditions and warmer ocean waters are making it increasingly difficult for the marine animals to find their usual prey.

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SeaWorld rescue worker Jody Westberg reckons the recent El Niño impact on the food supply has forced nursing sea lion mothers to leave their pups for lengthy periods of time while they go off on desperate food-finding missions. This is what may have led to young Marina being left to fend for herself.

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Wildlife experts say stranded sea lion pups like Marina are increasingly common along California’s beaches. In addition to experiencing potentially long periods away from their mothers, the pups may also be weaning themselves sooner than they would normally and going on food-finding missions of their own.

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Still, at least some help is at hand. Typically assisting an average of 200 marine mammals each year, the SeaWorld rescue center has already helped 300 ailing animals in 2016.

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Fortunately, many starving sea lion pups like Marina are found before it’s too late and are nursed back to health by caring and committed rescue workers like those at San Diego’s SeaWorld.

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During Marina’s own two-month rehabilitation, The Marine Room’s executive chef, Bernard Guillas, chose to visit the young sea lion, watching her grow strong as she put on 25 pounds and showed herself capable of looking for food on her own. Yes, this sea lion is quite the fighter.

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Guillas was also invited to come along for the ride when the wonderful time arrived to finally release the now 10-month-old Marina back into the wild. Rescue worker Jody Westberg compared the bittersweet emotions of a rehab release to those of taking your child to the first day of kindergarten.

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After nearly two months of being nursed back to perfect health – having been a skeletal pup with the odds against her – a healthy Marina was finally set free 12 miles off the San Diego coastline along with eight other rehabilitated seal pups. It was definitely a big moment.

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Marina was said to dive energetically into the water, re-surfacing playfully together with the male friend she’d shared an enclosure with on the boat – with the pair appearing to give each other a brief kiss. Then, after circling the boat of her rescuers, as if to say one last thank you, Marina disappeared into the waters. ABC News reported a touched Guillas saying, “Look at that, she’s back in the ocean, in the big blue, and she’s going to enjoy her life now.”

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