A sea lion pup and its mother were stranded south of D Street Beach in Encinitas. Warmer waters are causing mothers to swim further and deeper for food, placing stress on themselves and their pups. Photo by Ellen Wright
A sea lion pup and its mother were stranded south of D Street Beach in Encinitas. Warmer waters are causing mothers to swim further and deeper for food, placing stress on themselves and their pups. Photo by Ellen Wright
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Warm water causing record number of stranded sea lion pups

REGION— While surfers and swimmers have been enjoying the unusually warm water over the past months, sea lions are suffering.

According to Justin Viezbicke, California stranding coordinator for the National Marine Fisheries, the warm water is causing the highest number of sea lion pup strandings over the past decade.

This year more than 1,600 California Sea Lion pups have been rescued.

In 2009, Viezbicke said 2,400 pups were rescued during the entire year so this year is shaping up to be a record breaker.

Already the rescues have been about six times higher than the annual rescue rate.

The warmer water changes the upwelling pattern, which shifts the sea lions’ food source.

“Most of the prey for the sea lion mothers has actually been further and deeper away from the (Channel) Islands, taking them more energy and time to get the nutrients they need, thereby leaving the pups for longer periods of time,” Viezbicke said.

This causes the pups to grow slower and wean from their mothers earlier.

“They don’t really have knowledge of how to forage on their own so they’re basically washing up on shore starving,” Viezbicke said.

Typically, strandings don’t happen until April but they started this year in January.

While the numbers are above average, they’re not alarming, according to Viezbicke.

The California Sea Lion population is estimated at 300,000 so about a half a percent of the population has been stranded.

Viezbicke also said scientists had an idea this may happen because of the recent El Niño.

One of the problems with the strandings is the strain on rescue resources.

Sea World has canceled their live sea lion shows to make room for the unusually high number of pups. So far, Sea World has rescued more than 400 sea lion pups.

Viezbicke also said the public has become frustrated with slower response times.

“We’re getting a lot of people that are upset at us and yelling and screaming and hanging up because they can’t get a response,” Viezbicke said. “Believe us, we completely understand the concern.”

He urged people to be patient and said the facilities and rescuers are under a lot of duress trying to rescue the high number of stranded pups.

Many of the facilities don’t have more room to take in pups so instead of further stretching the resources, the facilities are no longer taking more rescues.

“The reality is we just can’t keep bringing them in because we spread everything way too thin,” Viezbicke said.

When seeing a stranded sea lion, Viezbicke advised to give it as much distance as possible because it is sick and stressed.

He said to not take pictures with it, even if it is docile.

“It stresses the animals out to have people around,” he said. “If the animal notices you or is barking at you, you’re too close.”

He also said not to feed it because one meal will only prolong the animals suffering.

Most starving pups need about four to six weeks of rehabilitation. Feeding it now could also lead to problems down the road because the sea lion would associate humans with food.

The best thing to do is call the Sea World Rescue line at (800) 541-7325.

Viezbicke said that while it may take a while to respond, the beach is the best place for the stranded pup.

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5 comments

Will Smith March 16, 2015 at 8:53 am

What a colossal ecological tragedy. Apparently the sea lions are starving because their food sources have vanished. Last year unseasonable cold water was offered as a reason, this year warm water is advanced as the cause.

The lower species on the food chain are missing along the western North American coastline for sea lions. Did those small fish die or migrate?

In either case their (small sea creatures) disappearance far exceeds dying sea lion numbers. Those missing food sources number in the millions or billions.

And if the ocean has suddenly become a hostile environment for those little creatures, what about the other creatures higher on the food chain? Birds, dolphins, whales, and man.

Answers seem pretty limited from the marine scientists. We would all like to know if the problem is pollution poisoning the ocean. And if that is a cause, then what actions should families take to protect themselves?

Authorities should seek and reveal the truth even if the news seems too grim to announce to the public and even if it impacts economic areas. To hide bad news is a bad policy. Because somebody is going to reveal the truth eventually.

Kai Ohmi March 16, 2015 at 9:08 am

This is not being caused by warm water.

Perhaps it’s being caused by RADIATION that is warming the water.

RADIATION…as in the radiation from Japan’s THREE nuclear meltdowns…where scientific studies show 80% of that radiation fell into the Pacific Ocean.

RADIATION…as in this radiation is detrimental to LIFE and DNA even in tiny amounts.

See all of these reports of sick and dying sea life ever since RADIATION from Japan’s 3 nuclear meltdowns fell into the Pacific Ocean:

http://enenews.com/?s=pacific+ocean

LastChants Teri March 16, 2015 at 4:18 pm

Now add the ongoing radiation from Fukushima’s AWOL coriums to the other man made pollutions already affecting all life forms and are we are experiencing a monumental disaster never before recorded in history.

Damaged food chain means starvation occurs. Genetic mutations means healthy reproduction ceases.

It’s that simple.

laurie steele March 16, 2015 at 10:03 pm

sea lions on the beach dying, has anyone looked for birds at batisquito lagoon lately, few to none left!!! the 400,000 (consertivate estimate) gallons of highly radioactive water hemorrhaging from the THREE COMPLETE MELT THROUGHS!! at FUKUSHIMA DAIICHI that enter the pacific everyday for over 4 years now,is the reason!! wake up ! TEPCO reporting that they are finding pieces of the plutonium in the ocean. Plutonium has a 80 million year half life, cesium 137 is 30 years, times both numbers by ten to find out roughly how long till they decay into another radioactive daughter. and that is just 2 of the almost 2000 still being released. daily. don’t believe me, FACT CHECK ME, I DARE YOU!! I WANT YOU TOO!!
come on people, i learned this in the 6th grade. and yes you should be alarmed by this subject, so you can take measures to KEEP YOUR FAMILIES SAFE!! hello, DEAD sea lions on the beach!! The emperor has no clothes!! you can’t escape it but you sure can think twice about shoving another fish stick down your kids throat and dragging him into the same ocean the sea lions are desperately trying to escape.
oh, and if you think that SONGS is all shut down think again, NRC just made that a waste dump for 2000 TONS of radioactive waste that they don’t know what to do with, AND they want to get permission to store more, and in a SUBSTANDARD cask!! keep that in mind when your cutting that check next month for your taxes on your premium properties, and paying for government agencies that have DONE NOTHING FOR YOU!!
what happened to the environmental californians that loved their state, loved their beaches!! i hate to sound cold, but you need to put down the chai teas and wake up and smell the rotting flesh on the beach and DO SOMETHING!!

laurie steele March 17, 2015 at 7:10 am

i apologize if my above comment sounds snarky, i just have felt so fortunate to live in north county for the past 30 years and to see the sealife and sea foul suffering is heartbreaking. i urge everyone to learn the dangers of radioactivity and to learn which foods to avoid, we need to figure out ways to mitigate the damage. i can’t stress enough how badly this affects small children. TATAL is Toxic At The Atomic Level, and there is NO SAFE LEVEL.

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