Sea Lion Stranding Mystery In Southern California

The sea lion stranding mystery in southern California has rescue workers scrambling and scientists scratching their heads. According to the National Marine Mammal Foundation (NMMF) and the National Wildlife Federation, over 1,100 sea lion pups have been found beached along the coast of southern California — some of them so dehydrated and hungry that they weigh only half their expected size.

When young sea lions are getting their bearings and learning their way through life, there are always a certain number of such sad events.

However, the current sea lion strandings are happening at three times the normal rate, causing the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) to declare an “Unusual Mortality Event for California Sea Lions.” The emergency declaration covers five counties — Santa Barbara, Ventura, Los Angeles, Orange, and San Diego — but NOAA warned that it could be extended to cover more counties to the north.

Dr. Cynthia Smith, the executive director of NMMF, said that the peak stranding season hasn’t arrived yet. “It appears the number of pups that will show up on San Diego’s beaches will go up even more in the next two months,” she warned a few days ago.

Although the sea lion pups aren’t thought to have a disease that could infect humans, no one yet knows the cause of the elevated numbers of strandings. Anyone who sees a stranded sea lion is asked to report it to wildlife officers rather than trying to handle the animal yourself. Even cute sea lion pups will bite.

Because of the crisis, rescue and rehab centers from Santa Barbara to San Diego are full. If pups don’t need emergency care, they are being watched by volunteers on the scene until space opens up.

Here are a couple of videos of the sea lion rescue effort to give you an idea of what rescue workers are coping with:

Gateway co-founder Ted Waitt announced a few days ago that he will match all public donations up to $100,000 to provide treatment to the pups. About half of his donation is being used to set up a temporary rehabilitation unit in Los Angeles. He has also provided at least three employees to help out during the sea lion stranding crisis.

[sea lion pup crying photo by Orbitgal via Wikipedia Commons]