In April this year, somebody contaminated the water system at the Pacific Martine Mammal Center placing harmful amounts of chlorine into the sea lions' pool. The incident resulted in over a dozen of the animals getting sick.

Now, 14 of the 17 sea lions that were injured because of the chlorine attack are back into the ocean after they were nursed back to health. Although three of the animals are still recuperating, most of them were released to Laguna Beach on Tuesday morning.

Keith Matassa of the Pacific Marine Mammal Center, said that it was a great thing to witness the closure and see the animals return to the ocean healthy.

The animals' enthusiasm to be back in the natural habitat was evident as they went directly to the sand and dived into the water after they were released.

The hunt is still on for the intruder who was responsible for the attack. The Laguna Beach Police Department said that somebody may have inadvertently contaminated one of several pools at the Pacific Marine Mammal Center by pouring large amounts of chlorine affecting sea lions that were receiving treatment for corneal infections.

"The chlorine incident—very sad, because they didn't ask for it. They didn't ask for any of this. They had already been near death when they came into the center for the first time, and they got all the way through that ... and then someone came in and did this horrific incident," said Matassa. "All they wanted to do was get back out to the wild."

Sea lion stranding was the worst this year and the Tuesday's release of the sea lions was the biggest in the center's history, its officials said. The center has so far rescued 472 sea lions this year more than twice their average through the month of May.

The attack, the first in the 40-year history of the nonprofit center, is believed to have happened between the evening of April 27 and early morning of April 28. The center hired an overnight security guard after the incident. If caught, the person responsible for the chlorine poisoning can face animal cruelty charges, which comes with a $20,000 fine and one year imprisonment.

Those who have information about the incident are encouraged to contact Detectives Abe Ocampo or David Gensemer at 949-497-0377 or 800-853-1964, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's hotline.

Photo: Caccamo | Flickr

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