Friday, March 13, 2015

Starving Sea Lions Washing Ashore by the Hundreds in California

Rescued sea lions recuperated at the Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach, Calif., last month. In a normal January, animal rescuers will find about 20 to 40 stranded sea lions. This year, they reported 250. Credit Kendrick Brinson for The New York Times.

By JACK HEALY, NYT
MARCH 12, 2015

CAPISTRANO BEACH, Calif. — By the time Wendy Leeds reached him, the sea lion pup had little hope of surviving.

Like more than 1,450 other sea lions that have washed up on California beaches this year, in what animal experts call a growing crisis for the animal, this 8-month-old pup was starving, stranded and hundreds of miles from a mother who still needed to nurse him and teach him to hunt and feed. Ribs jutted from his velveteen coat.

The pup had lain on the beach for hours, becoming the target of an aggressive dog before managing to wriggle onto the deck of a million-dollar oceanfront home, where the owner shielded him with an umbrella and called animal control. In came Ms. Leeds, an animal-care expert at the Pacific Marine Mammal Center, which like other California rescue centers is being inundated with calls about lost, emaciated sea lions.

“It’s getting crazy,” she said.

Experts suspect that unusually warm waters are driving fish and other food away from the coastal islands where sea lions breed and wean their young. As the mothers spend time away from the islands hunting for food, hundreds of starving pups are swimming away from home and flopping ashore from San Diego to San Francisco.

Many of the pups are leaving the Channel Islands, an eight-island chain off the Southern California coast, in a desperate search for food. But they are too young to travel far, dive deep or truly hunt on their own, scientists said.

This year, animal rescuers are reporting five times more sea lion rescues than normal — 1,100 last month alone. The pups are turning up under fishing piers and in backyards, along inlets and on rocky cliffs. One was found curled up in a flower pot.

(More here.)

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