Record numbers of sea lion pups have been washing up sick on Southern California beachs in recent months, prompting federal wildlife officials to declare an “unusual mortality event.”
This year, as of March 24, 214 sea lions were reported stranded in San Diego County, 189 in Orange County, 108 in Santa Barbara County and 42 in Ventura County, according to the Los Angeles Times. Sea World has saved more than 270 pups, already more than the past two years combined, with other sanctuaries around SoCal also taking in surviving pups. It is estimated that 45 percent of the pups born this past June have died.
Typically, the cause of such an incident might be warmer ocean temperatures or disease, but biologists say that doesn’t seem to be the case. Another possibility is that food supplies are low, causing mothers to leave pups earlier to forage for food. The “unusual mortality event” designation by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, mobilizes federal resources to help deal with the situation.
Still, California rescue centers are reportedly overwhelmed by the onslaught of sick pups, which is pushing the centers resources, both staff and budgets, to the limit.
The Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach declared a “state of emergency” for its organization, and called on the public to help with the situation.
“We encourage the public to keep their distance, call us to help identify the animal and location, and keep others away until we arrive,” said Executive Director Keith Matassa. “Secondly, we are accepting donations to help our non-profit provide the care the animals need. With this high number of animals, we are going through our financial resources at an alarming rate. Every dollar counts, and anyone able to support us during this time is greatly appreciated.”
Here are a few sanctuaries involved in sea lion rescue: