Sick sea lions are overwhelming rescue center

Sick and hungry sea lion pups are showing up almost daily at the Marine Mammal Care Center in San Pedro — a dozen on Saturday alone, according to a story in the Daily Breeze. There are about 85 animals currently being cared for, which is a lot for the center. They have put out a call for donations of money, Karo light corn syrup, safflower oil with vitamin E, household bleach and a back-up electric dryer.

A cadre of dedicated volunteers is struggling to keep up with the surge, possibly brought on by more pups leaving their mothers earlier than usual, center officials believe. Without refined hunting skills, the pups are turning up on local beaches emaciated and confused.

The center in January saw a record 43 sea lions come through its doors -- a trend that hasn't let up in the first part of February, said David Bard, operations director of the center at Fort MacArthur. But the influx reached a peak on Saturday, with 12 sea lions arriving at the already crowded center. There are now about 85 animals being cared for, Bard said.

Over the last 20 years, the facility reported an average of 12 strandings in January within Los Angeles County.

"To see nearly 50 arrive in January is very rare for us," Bard said. "They're coming in starving and in record numbers. Nutrition is their biggest challenge."

The relief workers don't really know why so many sick pups are showing up this year. One theory is that the water temperature changes that have attracted more whales and other less-common sea life to the Southern California coast recently have driven away some of the sea lions' food sources. But the cause remains a mystery.

From Brenda Rees at SoCalWild.com:

They have loose, rolling skin and their ribs show through their tiny brown bodies. There is a glaze in their large round eyes. When they flop or lay down on the cement dry areas, it’s not the normal lounging that healthy California sea lions typically do for hours on end. Even their whiskers seem droopy. These pups are sick....

“We estimate that most of these pups are about 8 months old,” says David Bard, director of operations. “We really aren’t sure why we are seeing so many now. Usually January is a relatively quiet time for us. This has taken us all by surprise.”

Indeed, officials gave the go-ahead to start an extensive revamping of the center’s drainage system last month considering January is “downtime.” That’s all been put on hold since staff and volunteers are working round the clock to assess, treat and care for the skinny pups.

There are many theories as to what is causing so many malnourished young sea lions, but overall, scientists are stumped.

“We currently do not know the reasons for the poor condition of California sea lion pups,” says Sharon Melin, research biologist for NOAA currently based in Seattle, WA....

It could be a few factors or a combination. “Starving pups at this time of year usually means that the mothers are having trouble finding enough food to support the energetic cost of lactation,” says Melin. “It could also mean that mothers are dying from disease…but we do not have evidence that suggests this is occurring.”

Photo: SoCalWild.com

More by Kevin Roderick:
'In on merit' at USC
Read the memo: LA Times hires again
Read the memo: LA Times losing big on search traffic
Google taking over LA's deadest shopping mall
Gustavo Arellano, many others join LA Times staff
Recent Fauna stories on LA Observed:
LA Observed Notes: Media notes, homeless ruling, scooters and lion cubs
Four lion kittens found and tagged in Simi Hills
Night of the living scorpion
Stunning: Mountain lion family on camera in the San Gabriels
Why we never see a movie where the dog dies
Cubs P-57 and P-58 have died in the Santa Monicas
New male lions: Meet P-55 and P-56
P-51 found dead on freeway where mother and other cub died