Hundreds of Baby Sea Lions Wash Ashore Mysteriously in California

Beginning in January, 2013, hundreds of malnourished, deyhdrated sea lion pups have been mysteriously washing ashore on the Californian coast.  In the last few months, 517 pups have been admitted to the five Southern California rescue centers, which is higher than the number has been for some entire years.


These pups are extremely malnourished, weighing only about half of what they should at 8 or 9 months of age.  Sharon Melin, a wildlife biologist with the National Fisheries Service, suspects the pups weaned themselves early and left home, stranding themselves on the mainland to survive.  So, what is happening? Why are so many pups leaving their colonies and needing rescue?

Right now, the San Pedro facility is caring for more than 100 pups. Down the coast, the Pacific Marine Mammal Center has more than 90. On Mar. 12, that facility declared a state of emergency after 18 rescues over two days threatened to overwhelm existing resources. Farther south in San Diego, SeaWorld reports more than 140 marine mammal rescues this year, the majority of which are California sea lions. In all of 2012, SeaWorld rescued 131 marine mammals.

But the bad news is, the onslaught isn’t over. Peak stranding season hasn’t happened yet. Historically, most sea lion strandings occur during April and May, when pups are weaned and have to find their way on their own. “We anticipate it will only get worse in the coming months,” Melin said.

The cause of the strandings is a bit of a mystery, although environmental perturbation affecting the food supply is a guess.  Typically, strandings will occur during El Nino events that warm waters and disrupt food supplies.  Scarce food means sea lion mothers have to swim farther and stay away longer, meaning pups need to wean themselves and leave the colonies in search of fish.  “It’s not that mom isn’t coming back, she’s just taking too long,” Melin said. “It takes a lot for a sea lion to leave its pups.”

This isn’t an El Nino event, however, so why might the food supply be disrupted?  Are warming waters in general as related to climate change causing these kinds of strandings more consistently?  Pelicans on the islands –which are also top predators like sea lions, so their numbers tend to fluctuate in synch– have also seen drops in their nesting rates.  Last year, only 5 pelican chicks fledged on Anacapa island out of hundreds of nesting attempts.  Something is definitely amiss in our offshore environments, and with all of our careless offshore drilling and contributing to climate change, it is not surprising.  It is, however, heartbreaking –especially when we’re forced to see the effects that environmental disruption is having on poor baby and mother sea mammals.  Humans are not the only ones who stand to lose if we continue throwing capitalist-driven fuel on the fire –or, coal in the smokestack.


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2 Comments on “Hundreds of Baby Sea Lions Wash Ashore Mysteriously in California”

  1. andhastings March 18, 2013 at 4:19 pm #

    This is pretty bad, but in a way, I’m glad that people are finally able to actually SEE the damage we’re doing to all of our little sea buddies. Normally they suffer in silence, and people go about their day totally oblivious to their struggles.

    It’s like an adorable sea lion protest. (not to trivialize what’s happening)

    • utopiandreaming March 18, 2013 at 7:35 pm #

      An adorable protest… haha. Of course, not to trivialize what is happening, it is important that people do SEE the effects that our consumptive practices are having. People seem to think that economic growth can just continue unabated; as if there are no environmental limits to growth whatsoever. Unfortunately, we’re all in for a major shock– not too far off in the future either.

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