Lucky beachgoers witnessed a touching moment Sunday, when two sea lions were released back into the wild at Crescent Bay in Laguna Beach, Calif.
Staff from the Pacific Marine Mammal Center, a local rescue organization that has rehabilitated and set free scores of sea lions, let the two animals loose on the beach and directed them toward the ocean with large boards.
Onlookers aww-ed and took photos of the heartwarming moment the mammals flopped happily into the waves.
"It was so wonderful to watch," Youtube user Cbogenrief, who posted a video of the release, wrote of the touching scene. "They ran straight into the ocean and swam out together frolicking and even came out of the water and kissed each other! It was beautiful."
Melissa Sciacca, director of development for the Pacific Marine Mammal Center, told The Huffington Post that the pair of yearlings -- sea lions younger than one year -- were recovered in December. The male, Yardley, weighed just 37 pounds and was wounded on the hip when he was found at Huntington Beach on Dec. 2. The female, Champagne, weighed 47 pounds when she was rescued on Dec. 27 at Newport Beach.
Rescue groups located throughout California, such as the Pacific Marine Mammal Center, release sea lions into the ocean after their rehabilitiation, ensuring the animals have gained an optimal weight and will be able to compete for food in the wild.
Before Sunday's release, Yardley weighed 70 pounds and Champagne weighed 91 pounds, Sciacca said.
Southern California has seen a peculiar increase in stranded sea lions in recent months. According to The Wall Street Journal, the Pacific Marine Mammal Center has taken in 38 sea lions this year, as of mid-February. At the same time last year, the center had rescued only six sea lions.
Sarah Wilkin, the stranding coordinator for the state's National Marine Fisheries Service, believes the problem may be related to the mammal's prey, or lack thereof.
"So these animals have been unsuccessful at foraging and/or their moms were unsuccessful at foraging and nursing them a little bit earlier in the season," Wilkin told NPR recently. "And so now, they're feeling the effects of it where they haven't been able to get enough food."
While there is no clear cause, Wilkin said the issue may be related to a change in the winds or currents.
California sea lions, protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, face threats including fishing gear, bio-toxins and human-caused injuries, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.