image1In response to record levels of sea lion pups washing ashore along the California coastline since early January, Wildlife World Zoo, Aquarium & Safari Park has named the first recipient of its annual Animal Care & Conservation Awards for 2015. The Marine Mammal Center (MMC) (marinemammalcenter.org) in Sausalito, CA is one of the largest marine mammal rescue, rehabilitation, and return organizations authorized by the federal government to respond to stranding crises like the one unfolding this year. To date the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reports more than 1200 sea lion pups have washed ashore this year. The MMC has recovered, treated and fed about 400 of the severely malnourished sea lion pups.

In a typical year, peak stranding months occur in May and June when yearlings are weaned and on their own.  The number of strandings reported for January was already five times the average amount.

“Through this award, we offer our support to those on the front lines of this unprecedented stranding event who are working 24/7 along our west coast to save starving sea lions,” comments Wildlife World Director, Mickey Ollson.

This award announcement follows SeaWorld’s decision last week to suspend its popular sea lion show for two weeks in order to dedicate additional staffing resources to handle the influx totaling more than 400 pups at their stranding facility.  “As a fellow accredited member of the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks & Aquariums (AMMPA.org), we are proud of the hard work and dedication our colleagues like SeaWorld and others are doing each day to step up and protect and preserve our oceans and rescue marine animals, ” states, Director of Conservation, Dr. Grey Stafford. “Our popular trio of sea lions on display represent the only marine mammals in Arizona, so the heartbreaking scope of this unfolding crisis hits close to home.”

The reason for the strandings appears to be linked to the inability of nursing females to locate adequate prey such as sardines due to unusually warm ocean currents off California. Females normally leave their growing pups in rookeries for a few days at a time as they forage at sea and replenish energy stores necessary to produce milk.  It is believed the lack of nearby prey is increasing the time females remain away, which then drives immature and underweight pups to search for food sooner than normal.

Over the past two decades, Wildlife World has contributed tens of thousands of dollars, as well as, thousands more as in-kind support and staff expertise to dozens of local, national and international organizations working on solutions for habitat restoration & wildlife conservation all over the globe. These financial awards were created to recognize worthy efforts in field conservation, public display & education, and basic research designed to preserve our planet and inspire future generations to care about wildlife and wild places.

Wildlife World Zoo, Aquarium & Safari Park opened an outdoor exhibit pool, public seating, and viewing area for its three juvenile California Sea Lions last December. The energetic sea lions can be seen daily at “Shipwreck Cove,” a pirate ship themed display with upper deck and underwater viewing.  Visitors can attend an all new public educational demonstration featuring these acrobatic animals daily at 11:30 a.m. & 3:30 p.m.  For a small fee, a limited number of guests can even feed the animals during two scheduled feeding times.

Wildlife World Zoo & Aquarium is located at the corner of Northern and Sarival avenues, ½ mile east of State Route 303. As an USDA licensed, private institution, accredited by the Zoological Association of America (ZAA) and the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks & Aquariums (AMMPA), Wildlife World Zoo & Aquarium receives zero taxpayer funding. No tax dollars have ever been spent to build or operate Wildlife World.

Wildlife World Zoo & Aquarium is located at 16501 W. Northern Ave., Litchfield Park, AZ. We’re open seven days a week, 365 days a year, including all holidays. Zoo exhibits are open from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. (last zoo admission is at 5:00 p.m.) Aquarium exhibits are open from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Daytime admission includes access to the zoo and aquarium.  Special reduced evening admission to Aquarium-Only is available after 5:00 p.m.