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Homeward bound: fit, fat and back to sea
With a clean bill of health and 230 more pounds on its chassis, Wolf Hollow's most voracious guest checked out and hit the beach at the end of May.
Nicknamed Mojo, the young Stellar sea lion that spent nearly four months being nursed back to health at the San Juan Island-based wildlife rehabilitation center was escorted back to Washington's outer coast May 29 and released back into the wild, south of the Olympic Peninsula, in an area where many of its kind are known to congregate.
"He hung around for a couple of days and then headed directly north," said Shona Aiken, Wolf Hollow education coordinator. Mojo had been outfitted with a satellite transmitter, attached to the short tuft of fur on the back of its head, in preparation for his return to the sea. Biologists expect to track its movement for at least several weeks, Aiken said.
"Last I saw him on the tracking website he was off the west side of Vancouver Island," she said.
Weak, thin, alone and seemingly abandoned, Mojo was corralled by state wildlife officials in mid-February on the outer coast, near the town of MoClips, and then shuttled to Wolf Hollow for care. He was believed at that time to be about six months old and should still have been in the company of its mother, Aiken said.
At the time it arrived at Wolf Hollow, Mojo was dehydrated, listless and emaciated and, Aiken said, recovery odds were iffy.
"When he first came in we weren't sure how he'd do," she said. "Their digestive system begin to shut down when they get too dehydrated. If he'd been out there alone for just a little bit longer it could have been different."
As it turns out, Mojo rebounded like a NBA all-star in a 14-week convalescence at the wildlife rehab center. After two weeks in intensive care, the pup had regained enough strength to be moved into an outdoor enclosure where it could swim in a pool, lounge in the sun and eat, eat, and eat. Which it did. In just over three months, Mojo put on roughly 230 pounds by gobbling down about 15 pounds of high-quality herring a day.
Aiken said that Mojo devoured a good portion of the fish and herring -- more than 1,500 pounds of just herring -- that Wolf Hollow had on hand for care of Harbor Seal pups that end up abandoned in summer months. The center created a "Mojo Fish Fund" with the hope of receiving donations to help replenish its stockpile of food.
Stellar sea lions live up to 30 years and are capable of traveling long distances. They are known to dive to depths of 1,300 feet. Males can weigh up to 2,500 pounds and grow to 10-11 feet in length; females average 7-9 feet in length and weigh up to 780 pounds. Pups typically weigh no more than 50 pounds at birth. In the U.S., the Western population of Stellars (western Gulf of Alaska and Aleutian Islands) are listed as endangered under federal law; the Eastern population (southeast Alaska, British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, California), are listed as threatened.
Mojo is only the second Stellar treated at Wolf Hollow in its 30-year history. With its recovery, the center is 2-for-2, having nursed a young female, Sedna, back to health about six years ago. That's two out of roughly 12,000 animals cared for by Wolf Hollow in three decades.
"When you have an animal you don't treat very often you learn a few things, like handling techniques and signs to look for along the way," Aiken said. "We're really happy he made it through."
To follow Mojo’s travels, log on to http://wildlifetracking.org/index.shtml?project_id=745
To donate to the Mojo Fish Fund, click here.