Sick sea lions showing up on coast

June 14, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
Sick California sea lions are showing up on the coast at an alarming rate. Veterinarians at the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito say the condition of these animals is just heartbreaking and the number of them is troubling.

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'Pholie' was found hanging out at the San Francisco Yacht Club. It may sound like a charmed life, but he was actually underweight and lethargic. And he's part of a disturbing trend.

"In the month of May we saw almost four times the number of California sea lions stranded than we did last year," said executive director Jeff Boehm.

They brought in 150 that came in May and they have 73 in their care right now. The staff at the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito is very concerned about the recent rash of patients. The majority of the sick sea lions have been found along the Central Coast. The workers are rescuing as many of these animals as they can - but only about half of them are surviving.

"We're seeing essentially starving pups with no measurable fat and when they're in that poor condition they're very susceptible to other things," said Bill Van Bonn, DVM-Marine Mammal Center.

What they don't know is why so many of these sea lions are sick. Their job is to rescue them and then pass on the information to the broader scientific community.

"The overall theme tends to be not a lot to eat out there, conditions aren't real great, they're succumbing to secondary problems a lot of absesses," said Van Bonn.

One thing the sea lions have going for them is their timing. The Marine Mammal Center just opened a brand new 128,000 square foot hospital with top notch state of the art systems. They thought it had more than enough room -- until these sea lions started showing up.

"We are at a point with our new hospital we're getting pretty darn full," said Boehm.

They've had to get creative, but so far they're found room for everyone. They see every patient as a chance to save a life and to learn more about the health of the ocean.

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