Sick sea lions situation getting worse, not better

The mystery of the ill sea lion pups overwhelming rescue centers in Southern California has been upgraded to an official "unusual mortality event" by the National Marine Fisheries Service. In January, the California Marine Mammal Stranding Network started to notice an increase in California sea lions strandings in the region. The strandings of dehydrated and emaciated sea lion pups on beaches began in January and has "intensified over the last few weeks," the feds say. The numbers even just for the first few months of 2013 far surpass past years. The most cases are in Los Angeles County, at least 395, but the sea lions have also been showing up from Santa Barbara to San Diego.

The young sea lions are supposed to be with their mothers at this time of year, but there's some speculation that the mothers have gone out to sea in search of food. The juveniles don't yet know how to dive and find food; there may be something else going as well. The federal designation triggers more funding and expertise for the problem, including the creation of an independent team of scientists to review data and determine potential next steps.

From the fisheries service:

Currently, the UME is confined to young of the year (born summer 2012) California sea lions. Consistent findings in the sea lions are emaciation and dehydration with most animals very underweight for their age. The California Marine Mammal Stranding Network continues to rescue and rehabilitate animals.

As part of the UME investigation process, an independent team of scientists (investigation team) is being assembled to coordinate with the Working Group on Marine Mammal Unusual Mortality Events (Working Group) to review the data collected and to determine potential next steps. The group will focus on the immediate response and develop the investigative plan.

Frequently asked questions are here.

Photo: Marine Mammal Care Center in San Pedro

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