Number of sea lions dying concerns experts

June 4, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
Marine mammal experts are concerned about the number of sick and dead sea lions washing up along the central coast.

There have been 166 sea lions that were taken to the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito; 10 carcasses were found on Del Monte Beach in Monterey this week alone.

One by one the Marine Mammal Center in Moss Landing is taking in a staggering number of sickly sea lions. The best guess is that warm El Nino waters have taken their toll on the food supply, literally starving the yearlings to death.

"We were expecting a quiet year this year and we are picking up just as many, if not more, the second year in a row. It's very frightening to me," says Sue Andrews, the Moss Landing field manager.

One young sea lion came from Del Monte Beach in Monterey. It barely had the strength to crawl out of its carrying container. He was named Chui and weighed in at about 30 pounds when he should weigh 50.

Experts at the Monterey Bay Aquarium say another mystery is sea lions giving birth in Monterey Bay and even the San Francisco region when the normal birthing location is Southern California.

"The births around Monterey Bay is very unusual and that may be food supply, water temperatures, maybe some other phenomenon going on," says Jim Covel from the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

The malnourished sea lions can appear docile, but volunteers warn people to keep their distance.

"Keeping the public away fromm the animals, understanding they are wild animals and they can and will bite," says Bill Larzelere, a Marine Mammal volunteer.

On the same beach where volunteers rescued Chui, ABC7 spotted another young sea lion in the surf who was not so fortunate and was found floating dead on the surface.

The holding pens at the Moss Landing facility are doubled up with mammals whose ribs and bones hint at their critical condition.

"Right now I would say somewhere around 50-50, but it's a guess," says Andrews in describing the chance of survival for Chui.

Those that do respond to tube feeding can take up to three months to recover.


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