From the Orange County Register :
Two inseparable sea lions got their very own Valentine's gift this morning – a return to the freedom of the open sea.
Dozens of beachgoers watched as the Pacific Marine Mammal Center released Makia and Alto, two California sea lions who forged a tight bond during their month-long rehabilitation.
The sea lions were found during separate rescues in November, both spotted by lifeguards off the shore of Huntington Beach. The males were brought to the Laguna Beach-based Pacific Marine Mammal Center within 10 days of each other.
Both sea lions were in dire need of medical attention, showing signs of malnutrition. Makia also suffered from respiratory distress, while Alto had conjunctivitis in his right eye.
Even in a center where an average of 200 hundred animals a year are rescued, Makia and Alto stood out, volunteers said, largely due to the bond the two formed as they were nursed back to health.
"Sea lions are very social animals. Some just really bond with one another," said Michele Hunter, animal care director. "You have the little buddies and stuff, but these two were just inseparable."
Hunter said the two couldn't even bear to be apart for short periods of time – such as when volunteers would weigh or tag them – and would holler until they were reunited.
Given their relationship, Hunter said it seemed appropriate to release Makia and Alto on a holiday symbolizing love and companionship.
"We see a lot go through, but there are special ones like these that we will always remember," she said.
Pacific Marine volunteers and staff watched this morning as the truck transporting the two sea lions arrived at Crescent Bay in Laguna Beach. While volunteers said they do their best to maintain their distance from the animals in order to preserve their ability to go back into the wild, it was still an emotional moment for some who had watched Makia and Alto's rehabilitation.
"Each of them has different personalities, and they are so much fun," said Kelly Bonett, a Pacific Marine volunteer.
The crowd watched in anticipation as workers carried the crate bearing the two sea lions onto the sand. Pacific Marine board member Mary Ferguson urged Makia and Alto toward freedom as she opened their cage.
"Go home little guys, go home," Ferguson said.
After a moment's hesitation, the two sea lions made a quick dash toward the sea, swimming away side by side. The onlookers cheered as they briefly popped their heads out of the surf several times before swimming out of sight.
"They're gone, but they are happy and where they should be," Ferguson said, as she watched them move out of sight. "Those two will be together forever. There is no doubt about it."
The release was particularly exciting for the many children on the beach, who waited in anticipation for a glimpse of Alto and Makia.
"I liked it when they ran into the water and started playing," said Shane Lawson, 6, of Laguna Beach, as he played in the sand minutes after the release.
"They were a little timid, then they charged," added Taylor Scott, 9, of Laguna Beach.
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