Apr 24 2013

For want of fish


Starving sea lions are maxing out the state’s rescue centers, and fishermen’s nets are coming up empty–but not everyone is worried


When large numbers of marine mammals suddenly and unexpectedly begin stranding on beaches and dying, the incident is described as an unusual mortality event. While that term may be scientifically efficient and accurate, it does little to convey—at least in the recent case of starving California sea lions—the startling sight of limp forms dotting the coastline like lost, wet coats; the cacophony of dozens of corralled animals barking like hoarse dogs; and the smell of gallon after gallon of pureed herring and salmon oil flowing into desperately hungry mouths at rehabilitation centers.

And while such a declaration—made by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s fisheries division—triggers access to better funding and research opportunities in the effort to find out exactly what’s weakening and killing animals, it’s really just the first step in a months- or even years-long endeavor. Sometimes the ultimate culprit is pinpointed as a biotoxin. Sometimes it’s an infection. Sometimes mass deaths come about as a direct result of human interaction.

In the current case, everyone already pretty much knows the problem: emaciation and dehydration.

A call to the Santa Barbara Marine Mammal Center in early April yielded this message: “All of the centers are having unusually large numbers of young California sea lions. They’re very small, skinny. They’re not getting enough to eat.

“These are not babies. They’re 9 months old. They’re already weaned by their mothers; their mothers are not coming back for them.

Read the full story here.


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