Long Island Aquarium raising funds to transport sea lion to Riverhead

The Long Island Aquarium is gearing up to welcome the newest member of its family: a baby California sea lion.

The juvenile female was born on the rugged shores of La Jolla in July. Newborn sea lion pups nurse from their mothers, who leave them to go ashore to hunt and return every few days, explained Candy Paparo, director of animal training at the aquarium. As the pup grew, her mom’s absences became longer. “Finally, mom didn’t come back,” Ms. Paparo said. “The pup wasn’t going to survive if [the rescue team] didn’t step in.”

The sea lion, known as No. 1870, was brought to the SeaWorld rescue center in San Diego, where, in consultation with officials from the National Marine Fisheries Service, she was deemed unreleasable.

“The goal is to release [rescued marine mammals] back into the ocean, but some are not good candidates to be released, otherwise they would perish,” due to injury or lack of survival skills, Ms. Paparo said Friday. “We have the ability and space, so whenever we’re able to, we’d love to give these animals a forever home.”

Ms. Paparo and her team have started a GoFundMe page to raise $7,500 to transport the pup via cargo plane to Riverhead. A transport date will be set for sometime this spring, she said, after coordinating with government agencies such as NOAA.

Once in Riverhead, No. 1870 will be quarantined for 60 days to undergo routine medical tests and basic training.

Then, she will be introduced to the three California sea lions that already call the Long Island Aquarium home: Java and Bunker, who will both turn 18 this year, and Nila, 6, who was rescued from Santa Barbara in 2014.

“They’re really easygoing, social animals,” Ms. Paparo said, adding that she’s excited the youngest will have a playmate. “[Nila] is always trying to get the adults to play with her.”

They also plan to hold a naming contest this summer, she said.

It’s been an exciting couple of weeks at the aquarium, which recently received accreditation from the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums. The group recognizes facilities all over the world and is known as the “gold standard” among industry professionals.

The endorsement is the result of a rigorous two-year process involving an application and two-day inspection of the facility.

“They look at everything we do with a fine-tooth comb,” Ms. Paparo said.

The accreditation recognizes the aquarium’s standard of animal care, state-of-the-art veterinary practices, welfare practices, conservation and education.

“It’s been a goal of mine,” she said, since she began working at the aquarium 19 years ago.

For more information and to help sponsor the new sea lion, visit

Photo caption: Trainer Jenna Mercurio with Nila the sea lion during a sea lion show at the aquarium Friday. (Credit: Tara Smith)

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