Monday, May 5, 2014

Alarm as record numbers of seals & sea lions ‘starving to death’ along California coast

“It’s just spiked… calls started coming nonstop” — “So many unhealthy… washing ashore” — “Extremely complex issue… multitude of factors in play” — “Definitely a mystery, we’re hoping it’s not the new norm”

Orange County Register, May 2, 2014: Sea lions are [...] washing ashore, many of them pups dehydrated, malnourished and on the brink of death. The year started off quieter than last year, and the Pacific Marine Mammal Center’s director of development, Melissa Sciacca, thought they were in the clear – until about a month ago, when the calls started coming in nonstop. [...] “We thought it was going to be a nice calm year; in the last month it’s just spiked,” she said. “The rescues just keep coming in at a steady pace.” It’s the second year stranded sea lions have been reported in alarming numbers. [...] Last year, scientists tested for radioactivity, and it was determined that wasn’t the cause, and infectious disease was also ruled out.
San Francisco Chronicle, May 3, 2014: Young seals, sea lions starving in record numbers — Rescuers are scrambling to save a record number of young sea lions and seals along California’s northern and central coast while scientists work to understand why the animals are beaching themselves [...] The emaciated and dehydrated pups are turning up along the 600 miles of coastline from Mendocino to San Luis Obispo monitored by the Marine Mammal Center. Many are too weak to move after washing ashore [...] As of Wednesday, the center had brought in 429 California sea lions, elephant seals, harbor seals and fur seals this year. That’s well above the 291 animals admitted by the same date last year [...] Southern California witnessed an almost 70 percent die-off of young sea lions – those born in summer 2012 – near the Channel Islands, where most American sea lions breed.
Sharon Melin, NOAA biologist: “In 2013, it was only the young animals that tried to do it on their own [...] this year there’s lots of stranding going on, but those are a different age-class of pups.”
Dr. Shawn Johnson, Marine Mammal Center: “The ones we are seeing are basically starving to death [...] It’s definitely a mystery. We’re hoping it’s not the new norm.”
Coastline Pilot, May 1, 2014: “In the last month we’ve seen the rescues spike,” [Pacific Marine Mammal Center's Keith Matassa] said. [...] Researchers are still trying to determine why so many unhealthy sea lions are washing ashore. “The reasons behind the animal strandings are an extremely complex issue,” Matassa said. “Although there is a leading theory that their food source is playing a significant role, there are a multitude of factors that come in to play.”

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