Hundreds of Baby Sea Lions Wash Ashore

by Claude Dargan

el nino seals

These past few months of 2015 have been considered incredibly tolling on sea lions, specifically the pups. Droves of the baby sea lions are washing up on southern California shores in record-breaking numbers. Since January 1st of this year, the number of sea lion pups washing ashore has been over 2,250 and is still increasing each day. Even though sea lion pups have washed up on the shores in the past, this current amount is already nearly ten times the usual amount seen in the past first four months of the recent years. At such a rapid rate, this may be the worst marine mammal disaster documented in recent history.

How did this happen?

Scientists are still investigating the root cause of this marine mammal crisis. One of the more popular theories experts are agreeing on is that the sea lion populations are being affected by the significant variations in climate change. The ocean’s water temperature has gotten warmer, especially due to the El Nino wind patterns experienced this past winter. An El Nino is the irregular climate patterns that occur every few years and usually causes the Pacific Ocean region to receive abnormally high temperature and nutrient deprived water in the area. In this particular case with the sea lions, the El Nino has possibly caused the animals that are a part of a usual sea lion diet (such as squids and sardines) to move deeper or further away than usual. Since the food has become limited, the mother sea lions have to spend more time away to search for something nutritious to fulfill their pups’ diets. These now left alone pups are not only starving, but are forced into a predicament in which they have to wean themselves much earlier than usual. Most of these hungry pups are also too young to be able fend for themselves alone and are unable to dive too deep or far away. The result of this situation is what is being experienced now: desperate emaciated baby seals looking for food on land.

This is not a one-time occurrence however. According to Sharon Melin, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration wildlife biologist, up to approximately 70% of baby sea lions born the preceding year have died due to environmental related events since 2013. This means that although the past El Nino patterns may have increased the negative effects on the sea lions’ ecosystems, this is also still a heavy issue occurring during non-El Nino experiencing seasons, and it is only going to get worst.

Other proposed theories of why this is all occurring could be due to a simple overpopulation within the food chain or possibly an outbreak of some type of sea lion related virus, such as calcivirus. This disease can cause paralysis and blindness within sea lions, and if the mothers become infected, then it leaves them unable to capably care for their offspring.

Whichever the case of the root cause of this ongoing disaster, the marine mammal rescue centers in the affected areas are all becoming overwhelmed with the number of pups coming in. The National Marine Fisheries Service has declared this situation an “Unusual Mortality Event” and that it is only going to get worse as the peak stranding season is soon to come. Sea World has also announced that since March 7th, their sea lion show has been temporarily suspended as the trainers are focusing now on the rescue efforts.

How can you help?

People in the local area can help immensely if they come and volunteer at one of these rescue centers. Also if anyone sights any of these sea lion pups washing on land, it is best to call the authorities. It has been noted though, that for many of those that have been calling in recently, that it may take a while for the authorities to show up due to the sheer number of pups that need help. Some of the rescues, such as the Marine Mammal Care Center, have already used up the majority of their budget for the year due to all of the rescues.

To find out more information or if you are not in the immediate vicinity of the affected area but still want to donate and contribute you can visit the following organizations’ websites.

Sea World: http://seaworldcares.com

Marine Mammal Care Center: http://marinemammalcare.org

Pacific Marine Mammal Center: http://www.pacificmmc.org

National Ocean and Atmosphere Administration: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/health/mmume/californiasealions2013.htm

 

References:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/speaking-of-science/wp/2015/03/16/record-numbers-of-starving-baby-sea-lions-continue-to-wash-ashore-in-california/

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2015/02/150211-sea-lions-pups-stranding-starving-california/