Marine ER releases its 10,000th rescued sea lion

By JASON DEAREN | August 6, 2011 | 3:13 PM EDT

POINT REYES NATIONAL SEASHORE, Calif. (AP) — Two juvenile California sea lions paused for a moment at the edge of the sea, each raising their whiskered faces toward the silvery water before sliding in to freedom.

For the Marine Mammal Center crew standing behind the rehabilitated pinnipeds on Thursday, it was a significant day: rescued sea lion No. 10,000, nicknamed Milestone, and 10,001, Zodiac Girl, had been nursed back to health and sent back to the wild where they belong.

Since it opened its doors 36 years ago, the nonprofit marine mammal hospital has become famous for nursing sick marine critters back to health — but its biggest contribution perhaps has been its role in collecting and storing thousands of tissue and other samples from the animals it rescues along 600 miles of California coast.