Record number of sick sea lions washing ashore Southern California beaches

March 12, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
The Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach says there is a sudden influx of severely malnourished and dehydrated sea lions pups being found stranded on local beaches.

Nearly 90 animals, most of them sea lions, are being cared for by the nonprofit. The last time it had this many animals this early in the year was in the late 1990s. There was a record number rescued in one day just last Saturday.

"We brought 12 animals," said Keith Matassa, the Pacific Marine Mammal Center's executive director. "That was the most rescues we've done in 42 years."

Marine mammal experts say there could be a number of reasons, including a shortage of food. Mothers are forced to go into deeper water and for longer to find nourishment.

"If mom doesn't have the milk for them, then they're not gaining the weight they need to to go out and hunt," Matassa said.

Caring for this many rescues this early in the year is straining the nonprofit. Officials say a sick sea lion could end up spending two to four months at the center at a cost of up to $3,000.

Donations of Pedialyte have started coming in to help feed the sickest.

"I got what I could and brought some in this morning just to make sure they had some," said Bill Rigas, a volunteer. "It just gives you a warm feeling that you're helping out some creatures that need some help."

Matassa says another way the public can help is to stay at a distance from a beached seal or sea lion.

"Do not chase it into the water," Matassa said. "These animals are coming onto the beach to get warm and they're in survival mode."

Instead, call the Pacific Marine Mammal Center at (949) 494-3050. The nonprofit is also taking donations at www.pacificmmc.org.


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