Dozens of starving sea lion pups continue to wash up each day on the California coastline, taxing the resources of rescue operations that care for the young animals.
Since the beginning of the year, sea lion rescue organizations have taken in more than 1,000 hungry pups, which is more than four times the number typically rescued during the first four months of the year, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
NOAA scientists believe the starvation is being caused by abnormally high ocean temperatures and resulting changes in food availability.
Sea lions eat mostly sardines, and the sardine populations have moved off-shore, away from the sea lions habitat. This in turn means the mothers may be foraging further afield and may not be producing enough milk or feeding pups frequently enough.
As a result, the pups may be leaving Southern California rookeries earlier than normal, and showing up hungry–or dead–on beaches in the north of the state.
The total population of California Sea Lions is estimated about around 100,000 animals. It’s unclear how many animals have died because of the “starvation event,” as the scientists call it.
This makes the third year tough year in a row for sea lion pups.