Southern California Sea Lions in Crisis

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Southern California Sea Lions in Crisis

April 23, 2015 - 22:31
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Press Release

Since the beginning of this year, along the California coastline, hundreds of malnourished, starving wild sea lion pups have been washing up on the beaches. There are now so many young sea lions stranding that rescue networks are overwhelmed. Since January 1, rescuers in California have taken in more than 2,500 sick sea lions, most of which are pups. That’s eight times the number they usually see during the first four months of the year.


The culprit may be a combination of factors including decreased numbers of nutrient-rich fish, an increasing sea lion population, and rising ocean temperatures. A cooperative study led by the National Marine Fisheries Service with the National Marine Mammal Foundation during the 2013 crisis showed that the availability of sardines and anchovies - fish full of nutrients for growing pups – had decreased near shore, leading to high numbers of starving pups. These pups were weak, and many died either from starvation or secondary infections.

Scientists believe the warmer temperatures may be affecting the types of fish that make up the core diet of sea lions, perhaps driving the prey deeper into the water or farther offshore. So when mothers swim off to forage from the Channel Islands, where pups are weaned every year, they are having to stay away longer before they can come back to nurse. With less frequent nursing, pups are losing weight at unprecedented rates and under-grown animals are being driven to look for food on their own before they are ready. The unprecedented numbers of starving pups in our local waters is a warning sign that a significant environmental change has occurred. It is critical that we rapidly respond to the crisis, continue to investigate the underlying factors, and decipher the message these pups are sending.

This year, the National Marine Mammal Foundation (NMMF) received a request from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to provide staffing support for this crisis. We immediately began deploying animal care teams to both the Marine Mammal Care Center in San Pedro and the Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach. These teams are working with our colleagues at those centers to provide medical care and help nurse the emaciated pups back to health. Providing the proper nourishment and supportive care for these pups is a time-consuming, labor intensive process that requires experience and a great deal of patience. It also takes money.

NMMF has already dedicated $25,000 of our general funds to kick start this effort. However, additional funding is urgently needed to provide the level of support being requested and for the expected duration of the event. The animals that have already come ashore sick and in need of medical attention are likely to be the tip of the iceberg. We anticipate that funding at a level of $100,000 will be needed to adequately respond to this overwhelming stranding crisis.

The National Marine Mammal Foundation is working with our partners at NOAA, the Waitt Foundation, and SAIC to coordinate an emergency response that will infuse desperately needed staffing support to California marine mammal rescue centers. We have already deployed teams to the Marine Mammal Care Center in San Pedro and the Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach, which are embedded in the hardest hit regions in California. We are also reaching out to our colleagues at The Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito and the Channel Islands Marine Wildlife Institute in Santa Barbara to better understand their needs and provide additional support.

Your gift will directly support the animal care experts who are deploying across California in response to the crisis.