'Revolving Door': Influx of More Than 100 Stranded Sea Lions - NBC Southern California

'Revolving Door': Influx of More Than 100 Stranded Sea Lions

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Officials are investigating why sick sea lions are washing up onshore. Vikki Vargas reports for the NBC4 News at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, April 19, 2016. (Published Tuesday, April 19, 2016)

    The Laguna Beach Pacific Marine Mammal Center has an overflow of sea lions, and experts said Tuesday they are older and they are arriving later in the season.

    They also say they doubt this trend will slow down since El Niño conditions have warmed the ocean and it will only get warmer as summer moves in.

    Sindy Baron, a Laguna Niguel resident, reported a sick sea lion at Dana Point Harbor two weeks before.

    "It's a little baby and coiled in a little, like a sick baby. Just coiled up in a fetal position and it wasn't eating and it wasn't lifting its head," Baron said.

    She didn't know until Tuesday that the 31-pound animal — tiny by normal standards — had been rescued, and didn't know if it survived.

    The pup was half its normal weight and is one of 130 being nursed back to health at the Pacific Marine Mammal Center. Experts say the unusual mortality event of 2015 is underway yet again.

    The reason for the influx of sea lions remains a disappearing cold water food source.

    That's what sea lions rely on to live. Last year, most of the stranded sea lions were pups. Now as they get older, the food source is dropping deeper and deeper. Only those that can dive survive.

    "Even at eight months, they're underneath their birth weight. A California sea lion is usually birthed at around 25 pounds," Keith Matassa of the mammal center said. "We have animals coming in that are 15 to 25 pounds, and they're eight months old."

    The influx adds up for centers, which spend up to $3,000 per animal.

    It can take six months to nurse them back to health.

    They admit it's not about restoring a threatened population. The goal is to keep enough sea lions around since they act as sentinels of the ocean.

    "Environmental conditions have changed. Stresses on the ocean have changed and it's causing problems on the whole food chain," Matassa said.

    Volunteers rescued three sea lions Tuesday. They plan to release five Wednesday. It's a revolving door that provides an insight on the Pacific.

    "I do think it's valid and I do think we should pay attention to it," Baron said.

    Another unusual phenomenon they are seeing: Elephant and harbor seals are coming into the centers in addition to California sea lions, and that is not typical.

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