This sea lion pup is one of about 100 needing care for illnesses, malnutrition and dehydration off the coast of Los Angeles. This photograph was taken during normal or routine rehabilitation procedures performed under a stranding agreement issued by the National Marine Fisheries Service.
A sea lion pup that flopped its way onto an intersection in Carson -- about six miles from the beach -- is just the latest in a flood of the emaciated mammals to struggle ashore in Southern California in recent weeks.
The hungry, hypothermic pup most likely swam up thorugh the Dominguez Channel and came into the streets through a flood control channel earlier this month, said Peter Wallerstein, director of rescue at Marine Animal Rescue in El Segundo.
“He still had to cross a few streets to get to that intersection, so that’s a long way for a little pup,” Wallerstein said. “Over 95 percent of the fluids in his body comes from food, so by not eating he could get dehydrated -- and that could kill him.”
The animal was one of about 130 sea lion pups rescuers have brought to the Marine Mammal Care Center in San Pedro so far this year, an influx that has puzzled marine biologists.
This number is abnormally high for LA County, because Orange County and Northern California beaches have seen only “a handful,” said Wallerstein.
“I rescued two this morning -- one on the Hermosa Beach pier,” Wallerstein said. “Since the beginning of the year I’ve rescued 92 -- and that’s a very high number.”
Wallerstein also said they are stumped as to why the number is so high this year.
The ocean is full of nourishment, but some of the animals appear to have been starving.
“We really don’t know why,” Wallerstein said. “There is plenty of food, like squid, and it’s in their face.”
Wallerstein speculated that the population of local islands had higher birth rates than usual, which may be one cause of the recent influx.
Over the last week, however, the sea lion pup sightings and rescues have begun to decrease, Wallerstein said.
“Maybe a week ago, we were seeing probably five or six rescues before noon,” Wallerstein said. “But yesterday, there were four, and the day before there were none. That was the first day in over a month that we had no rescues.”
Wallerstein also said the Marine Mammal Care Center has been “overwhelmed,” so the rehabilitation time for pups has been shortened to about a month.
“They’re probably letting them out a little sooner than normal,” Wallerstein said.
Wallerstein also said that 90 percent of marine animals rescued are sea lion pups. He cautioned that residents should not try to rescue them.
“These animals have a bite 10 times greater than a pit bull,” Wallerstein said. “Please stay away from them.”
It is a federal crime to disturb sea lions, even if they show up in populated areas like Avalon Boulevard and Dominguez Street, where the pup was found at about 11:30 p.m. on Feb. 9.
The baby sea lion was “taken into custody, but not arrested,” joked the LA County Sheriff's Carson station in a press release.