LAGUNA BEACH (CBS/AP) — Federal scientists say the number of sea lion pups stranded on California beaches is spiking and is now higher than the total for all of 2013, the last time large numbers of pups starved.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Monday at least 1,650 sea lion pups have been rescued since Jan. 1.
That’s 250 more than in all of 2013, and the number will surge as more rescues are tallied this week.
The Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach has rescued 285 pups and doubled volunteer staffing to care for them.
The U.S. Navy and the National Marine Mammal Foundation have sent volunteers to help.
Further north up the coast in the Bay Area, very single pen area at the Marine Mammal Center was filled up as of mid February, as a record 123 sea lion pups are being cared for.
Stan Jensen is a longtime volunteer. “As a volunteer, I’m seeing animals coming in smaller than they should be, smaller than baby harbor seals,” he said. “It’s just sad to see. This is the worst and the busiest I’ve seen it ever. It’s real hard for us.”
Officials at the Marine Mammal Center are especially concerned about the influx of sea lion pups coming in, because soon, they will begin receiving the customary population of adult sea lions, which could further tax the facility.
“We’re continuing to have a real crisis on our hands here with the number of sea lions stranding,” said Shawn Johnson, director of veterinary science at the Marine Mammal Center. “We’re continuing to have to rescue them off the beaches, 10-15 a day.”
So what’s the reason behind the increasing number of sick pups being stranded? Johnson said a lack of wind near the Channel Islands, the native feeding ground for sea lions, is preventing an upwelling of cool waters, meaning ocean temperatures are 2-5 degrees above normal, and fish are searching for warmer waters.
“The sea lions are having to travel much farther to find food, so they’re not able to provide for their pups,” said Johnson.
That leaves many of the sea lion pups behind, sick and malnourished and searching for food on their own.
Despite the strain on staff and volunteers at the Marine Mammal Center, officials said they would not turn away any sick sea lions or sea lion pups.
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