At This Summer Camp, Some Of The Best Friends Are Marine Mammals Summer camp typically brings to mind s'mores, campfires and the beach. But for some kids in Southern California, camp is where they learn to care for sick and stranded sea lions and elephant seals.
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At This Summer Camp, Some Of The Best Friends Are Marine Mammals

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At This Summer Camp, Some Of The Best Friends Are Marine Mammals

At This Summer Camp, Some Of The Best Friends Are Marine Mammals

At This Summer Camp, Some Of The Best Friends Are Marine Mammals

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/429368991/429385958" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Campers at the Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach, Calif., learn how to care for sick and injured marine mammals — from cleaning an animal covered with oil to rescuing a stranded baby sea lion. Stuffed toy seals are stand-ins. Gloria Hillard for NPR hide caption

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Gloria Hillard for NPR

Campers at the Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach, Calif., learn how to care for sick and injured marine mammals — from cleaning an animal covered with oil to rescuing a stranded baby sea lion. Stuffed toy seals are stand-ins.

Gloria Hillard for NPR

Summer camp typically brings to mind s'mores, campfires and the beach, but for some kids in Southern California, it's all about marine mammals. Day camp at the Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach teaches children to care for sick and stranded baby sea lions and elephant seals. (Check out the center's live poolside webcam.)

"It's sad that they have to come in, but it's good that they're coming in to get rehabilitated," says camper Jameson Ibe, 11.

Jameson is one of the campers age 8 to 12 who are learning all about how to care for those sick and injured marine mammals — from cleaning an animal covered with oil to rescuing a stranded baby sea lion. Stuffed toy seals are stand-ins.

"The first thing you do ... is throw this towel over his head so he can't see," counselor Malena Berndt tells the campers.

Once the animals are rescued, they need some nutrition. Here they call it "fish smoothies" — a combination of fish, vitamins, extra protein and Karo syrup — and it's a mixture the campers help prepare.

"It is incredibly important to get people involved at a young age," says Kirsten Donald, the center's education director. "It's amazing what can happen when you see a child look at an animal that is hurting, that is emaciated, and it makes a big impact on them and they realize I can be a part of this, whether it be by turning this into a career or just talking to people about it."

Four young and healthy sea lions the Pacific Marine Mammal Center cared for make a quick dash back into the ocean. Courtesy of Pacific Marine Mammal Center hide caption

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Courtesy of Pacific Marine Mammal Center

Four young and healthy sea lions the Pacific Marine Mammal Center cared for make a quick dash back into the ocean.

Courtesy of Pacific Marine Mammal Center

That last day of camp is a trip to the ocean. The human youngsters wait behind a rope as the four young and healthy sea lions waddle out of their crates. It's a quick dash — or fast scamper to the ocean — and then they jump in the air, in unison, like dolphins.

"They were jumping with joy!" cheers a camper.

Summer camp can be bittersweet, especially saying goodbye to the friends you've met — all of them, says Jameson: "I'm sad I can't see them anymore, and I can't say hi eventually, but they should belong into the wild."