An unprecedented epidemic of stranded sea lion pups is straining the resources of California marine rescue agencies.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says at least 1,650 sickly sea lion pups were rescued from California beaches between the start of this year and March 8th. That’s 250 more than were saved during all of 2013, the last time this happened in large numbers.
The Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach has rescued 285 sea lions and has doubled the number of volunteers caring for the pups. Sea World in San Diego suspended its sea lion show to allow handlers to work on rescues. The company says its teams have saved 487 animals. In San Pedro, the Marine Mammal Care Center is currently nursing more than 170 stranded pups back to health. Hundreds more are housed in Malibu, Santa Barbara and Sausalito.
Not all of the rescued pups are making it. Some were too ill when they were found and had to be euthanized. Incoming sea lions have their temperatures taken and are weighed and measured and given a blood sugar test before veterinarians determine if they can be saved.
Scientists aren’t sure what’s causing the crisis, which they call an “unusual mortality event.” But they believe unusually warm ocean temperatures are affecting sea lion birthing grounds in the Channel Islands and may be driving away the fish and squid California sea lions usually feed on. The pups are thought to be weaning themselves early and heading out on their in search of food despite being ill-prepared to hunt.