According to Shawn Johnson, the director of veterinary science at Sausalito's Marine Mammal Center, for the third year out of five, thousands of sea lion pups have beached themselves in an effort to survive. The sea lions are too young to be without their mothers and, as a result, are not able to fend for themselves in the water. After trying desperately to find food, the sea lions came ashore -- nothing but skin and bones and a mass of internal parasites, and too weak to go on any longer.
The pups are coming from their breeding grounds at the Channel Islands. The primary reason for the breeding grounds' location is due to the seasonal swells of prey sardines, anchovies and more that the Pacific Ocean has historically brought to the shores of the islands. As the numbers of fish drop, the mothers of these sea lion pups must leave them to fend for themselves for longer periods of time as they seek to forage for food.
Number of rescues high for the year
The sea lions from the Channel Islands, a long chain of eight islands off the coast of Southern California, have resulted in over 1,100 rescues in February 2015 -- an increase of more than five times the normal number. The pups are desperately trying to get out of the ocean and are being found on homeowners' decks, inside flower pots, under fishing piers, on rocky cliffs, along inlets and in other unusual spots.
Changes in feeding structure
Though experts cannot say for certain, many believe that warmer-than-normal waters are pushing the fish and other prey that the sea lions rely on away from their previous coastal island routes. As a result, the females must leave the islands where they come to breed and birth their babies before weaning them for a life foraging on their own for longer periods of time so they can find food. The pups are too young to have the necessary experience to know how to feed themselves.
Stranded sea lion pups become prey themselves
As the sea lion pups strand themselves on shores from San Diego to San Francisco, their encounters with humans continue to increase, often to the detriment of the pups. Aggressive dogs sometimes target the animals, cornering them and pushing them to seek shelter in the yards of multimillion-dollar homes along the shores. Sometimes, people take pictures of their children sitting atop the starving animals. In other instances, humans try to help the pups by feeding them tuna, spraying them with water or trying to drag the weakened animals back into the water.
Environmental change is occurring too quickly
According to Sharon Melin, a National Marine Fisheries Service wildlife biologist, the pups weigh about 44 percent less than their ideal weight. Though the sea lion population numbers at about 300,000 right now -- a number that experts agree is healthy -- scientists do expect the number to dwindle soon. As of right now, the species is not adapting fast enough to allow its young to thrive.
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