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Mark your calendar: There are several planned releases for the next two days. OnThursday, Dec. 1, see one sea lion and one elephant seal released back into the wild. On Friday, Dec. 2, at least three sea lions are scheduled for release — and possibly more, pending veterinary review. 

Not a lot of us look forward to texts from the bank, dentist or in-laws. But pretty much everyone can agree, it’s an absolute treat to get an urgent notification that tells you that – in mere minutes – you can watch the live-streamed release of a previously hospitalized but now-healthy seal or California sea lion.

Now you can, thanks to a new service from the Marine Mammal Center and the Webcams for Coastal Observations and Operational Support (WebCOOS), a consortium of video cameras around the country affiliated with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Simply text RELEASE to 65179 and sit back and wait. When the center is about to return a critter to the ocean at Point Reyes National Seashore, it’ll ping you with a message like “Sea lion patient Bushes is being released soon!” Then you pull out the popcorn and watch the little fella as it reacquaints itself with the beach, maybe peers around a bit, then makes a hump-de-humping beeline for the water, hopefully to never return as a patient again.

The center takes in animals for a number of reasons. “Bushes,” for example, was rescued from Jenner suffering from malnutrition and leptospirosis, a bacterial infection that can cause kidney failure. “Related to fatal urogenital cancer, it’s seen in approximately one in four of our adult California sea-lion patients,” says Giancarlo Rulli, the center’s public relations manager. Monitoring the well-being of the furry and flippered isn’t just for their good. “They are near-coast foragers and important species to be paying attention to, not just for the health of marine mammals, but humans as well because we’re eating the same foods.”

Aside from California sea lions, the center and WebCOOS will broadcast the releases of northern elephant seals, harbor seals, northern fur seals and Guadalupe fur seals. Even on days without releases, it’s just a cool livecam to have on in the background. For instance, a recent afternoon featured a group of northern elephant seals bumping bodies with each other:

Northern elephant seals at Point Reyes National Seashore on Nov. 30, 2022.
Northern elephant seals at Point Reyes National Seashore on Nov. 30, 2022. (Marine Mammal Center/WebCOOS)

A little video of that action:

Northern elephant seals "play fighting"
Northern elephant seals “play fighting” (Marine Mammal Center/WebCOOS)

“Typically what happens around now is we start to see juvenile males return to beaches and, for lack of a better term, ‘play fight’ with one another,” says Rulli. “That’s natural behavior in terms of what sexually mature males down the road will have to display in order to mate.”

Other times, it just seems like a supremely relaxed place to chill – note the big’un flopped all the way to the right:

A screen capture of northern elephant seals at Point Reyes
A screen capture of northern elephant seals at Point Reyes (Marine Mammal Center/WebCOOS)

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