Starving sea lion pups fill California rescue centres on US west coast
Saturday 30 March 2013
Hundreds of starving sea lion pups are washing up on beaches in Southern California, overwhelming rescue centres and leaving scientists scrambling to figure out why.
At island rookeries off the coast, 45 per cent of the pups born in June have died, said Sharon Melin, a wildlife biologist for the National
Marine Fisheries Service based in Seattle. Normally, less than one-third of the pups would die.
It's gotten so bad in the past two weeks that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration declared an "unusual mortality event." That will allow more scientists to join the search for the cause, Melin said.
Pups are normally weaned from their mothers in April.
Even the pups that are making it are markedly underweight, Melin said.
The most recent pups weighed at the breeding area on San Miguel Island were about 17kg, Melin said. They should weigh up to 27kg by now, she said.
Melin said she doesn't know how the pups are making it to the mainland, but they must be using currents and swimming.
"That's a long way, and they are very small," she said. "They don't have a lot of fat, and the water is pretty cold. They are often dehydrated, which is typical with emaciation. It puts them in pretty bad condition."
Those landing on the mainland may have been looking for food if their mother stayed out foraging too long, Melin said.
Live sea lion strandings are nearly three times higher than the historical average, said Jim Milbury of the National Marine Fisheries Service, part of NOAA.
Between 1 January and 24 March, 948 pups were rescued, Milbury said. The bulk of those were in Los Angeles County, which had 395, followed by San Diego, Orange, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, he said. Last year, only about 100 pups needed saving during the same period.
At the Pacific Marine Mammal Care Center in Laguna Beach, there were 139 animals being cared for yesterday. Of those, 131 were sea lion pups, said spokeswoman Melissa Sciacca. She said the center has treated more than 220 sea lion pups so far this year, while the center treated 118 in all of 2012.
Southern California rescue facilities have become so crowded they have had to start sending pups to Northern California, said Jeff Boehm, executive director at The Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, which was caring for 30 starving pups.
Scientists were performing tests to determine if the problem is food availability, disease or both.
Biologists knew last spring that this year's supply of anchovies and sardines could be limited, Boehm said.
"These two species of fish are an extremely important part of California sea lions' diets, and females simply may not have been able to nurse their young sufficiently, resulting in abandonment, premature weaning and subsequent strandings," he said.
Besides anchovies and sardines, sea lions also eat squid and other ocean creatures. Routine testing of seafood is being done by state and federal agencies and consumer safety experts are working with NOAA to find the problem.
"No link has been established at this time between these sea lion strandings and any potential seafood safety issues," NOAA said in a statement.
There has been no sign of adult female mortality, Melin said. But the pups' situation on the beaches is so bad, rescuers have had to leave the worst of them in an effort to save the strongest ones, she said.
Scientists expect the death toll to rise in April when weaning is supposed to take place. They also expect it to move further north, Melin said.
Anyone who sees a stranded sea lion, dead or alive, is asked to call the nearest marine mammal center. Authorities say people should not touch the animal or let a pet near it, because sea lions can bite.
- 1 Migrant crisis: Greek soldier saved 20 people singlehandedly off Rhodes beach
- 2 Sofyen Belamouadden murder: The inside story of a crime that horrified Britain
- 3 Company breaks open Apple Watch to discover what it says is 'planned obsolescence'
- 5 UK weather: Britain braced for snow as arctic air mass moves in
Migrant crisis: Greek soldier saved 20 people singlehandedly off Rhodes beach
Ian Brady: Moors murderer announces his support for Ukip and the SNP
Aaron and Melissa Klein: Oregon anti-gay bakers ordered to pay $135,000 after refusing to make cake for same-sex wedding
UK weather: Britain braced for snow as arctic air mass moves in
Bali Nine executions in Indonesia: Death row British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford says she 'just wants to get it over with'
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
The sickening truth about food banks that the Tories don't want you to know
Migrant boat disaster: Ukip candidate mocks victims in sickening Twitter post
Nigel Farage wants the BBC to stop making programmes like Doctor Who, Strictly Come Dancing, and Top Gear
Global warming: Scientists say temperatures could rise by 6C by 2100 and call for action ahead of UN meeting in Paris
General Election 2015: Britain would become a 'communist dictatorship' under Ed Miliband and Nicola Sturgeon, claims wife of Michael Gove
£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This successful, family owned m...
£20000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Account Payable Assistant - SW Londo...
£14560 - £17680 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Even though their premises have...
£44000 - £48000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Marketing company based in cent...