In fact, the center was founded before the federal government passed the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972. The center’s rescue efforts date back to 1971, when Jim Stauffer, a Newport Beach lifeguard, discovered an ailing sea lion on the beach and nursed it back to health at home. After that, local lifeguards started contacting Stauffer whenever they found an injured seal or sea lion.
Today, the center is housed in a building at the foot of Laguna Canyon Hills, alongside a waterway that leads to the ocean. Inside, you can see the seals and sea lions that have been rescued between Seal Beach, south of Long Beach, and San Onofre, on the north end of San Diego County. They are recovering from any number of maladies—from dehydration to shark bites, fish hook injuries to respiratory infections. (Check the center’s web site to see the current list of residents, which are given names like Whiskers, Avocado, and Syrah). Check out the before-and-after photos of the center’s many success stories, then stand by the pools to watch the seals and sea lions that are feeling better—and are almost ready to head back to the wild—bark and play with each other.
Along the center’s edge, you might see the center’s non-marine critters in the butterfly garden of cassia, California fuchsia, and white yarrow. While admission to the center is always free, any purchases from the stuffed-animal-stocked gift shop help support the center’s efforts.