More than a dozen sea lions that were sickened in April when an intruder contaminated the water system at Pacific Marine Mammal Center were released back into the ocean in Laguna Beach on Tuesday morning.
In front of a large crowd of spectators, the 14 sea lions scampered through the sand on the beach and into the cold ocean water after being released by the Laguna Beach-based mammal center about 8:30 a.m.
"Things went amazingly well; all the animals went out," said Keith Matassa of the Pacific Marine Mammal Center. "It was such a great thing to see the closure and see those animals return to the wild healthy."
Amid a record-breaking year for sea lion strandings, Tuesday's release was the largest such event in the center's history, officials said.
The sea lions became sick after someone entered the Pacific Marine Mammal Center in late April and contaminated one of the pools with chlorine, according to the Laguna Beach Police Department.
The contamination left 15 of the 17 sea lions that were being treated in the pool with varying degrees of corneal ulcerations. The animals had been just a day or two from release before the poisoning incident, Matassa said.
"The chlorine incident — very sad, because they didn't ask for it. They didn't ask for any of this. They had already been near death when they came into the center for the first time, and they got all the way through that ... and then someone came in and did this horrific incident," Matassa said. "All they wanted to do was get back out to the wild."
According to police, the attack marked the first known assault to take place at the facility, which is a nonprofit center that services coastal Orange County.
An arrest has not been made in the case, and the investigation remained "open," according to Matassa.
Anyone with information about the April incident was urged to contact Detectives David Gensemer or Abe Ocampo at 949-497-0377 or the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration hotline at 800-853-1964.
KTLA's Melissa Pamer contributed to this article.