6 min read

Sea Lion Mom Who Lost Her Baby Can't Stop Crying

This sea lion mother proves just how strong the mother-child bond is - even when it's broken.

Andrea Else Hahn, an independent wildlife advocate, was watching sea lions in the La Jolla area of San Diego, California, in March when she spotted a mother who had recently given birth to a stillborn pup.

Warning: The videos contain scenes of birthing and may be considered graphic

The mother's grief was overwhelming. A video shows her lying next to her undersized pup, sometimes lifting her head to cry out. At several points she noses at or nips the pup, as if trying to wake him up.

Eventually she drags her body across his, blocking him from the crowd of people watching. She bends down over him again and can be heard crying out.

A few days later, Hahn spotted another mother sea lion hovering over the body of her stillborn pup, displaying similar signs of grief.

As with the first mother, this one can be seen lying next to her stillborn infant, gently nosing him and rubbing her face on his as if trying to revive him.

She stayed with him all night.

"It's the same puppy as yesterday; she's still with her baby," Hahn says in a clip the next morning. "Still with her sweet baby."

A third incident had happened just a week earlier. In that video, the mother again cries out, and charges at beachgoers who wander too close to her infant's body.

"She's defending her puppy," Hahn can be heard saying in the video. "They're all about to step on the puppy. She, just now, just lost her baby."

The videos are heartbreaking. But they also give a voice and face to a problem that, Hahn says, many of the California sea lions are facing.

"We've been having problems, of course, with pup mortality," Hahn, who isn't affiliated with any rescue groups but stops by the beach every day to document and check up on the population, told The Dodo. "We count something like 30 of them every single year between January and June."

Hahn said the sea lions normally breed on the Channel Islands, but have altered their breeding patterns, she suspects, due to a lack of food caused by overfishing.

She said she believes the sea lion mothers are being stressed by human interference, which could be causing the miscarriages and pup mortality. On one hand, she said, locals are fed up with the noise and waste caused by the sea lions and try to deter them from the beaches.

On the other hand, tourists will often try to interact with the sea lions and harass them. "The public are actually encouraged to get really close and it's because San Diego is a tourist town," she said. "We've had some biting incidents."

Hahn said she's hoping the videos of the grieving mothers will bring some empathy into the debate - and hopefully inspire the public to embrace more humane ways of dealing with to the local sea lions.

While the videos are painful to watch, they also serve as a touching reminder of just how deeply these intelligent animals can feel emotions. They might not speak our language, but maternal love knows no species.

You can learn more about what to do if you find a stranded sea lion, or donate to the Marine Mammal Center to help care for rescued sea lions.