More than 90 malnourished and dehydrated sea lion pups have been brought to a Los Angeles animal care facility so far this year, and more are coming in every day.
“We have a lot of cases for a very short time,” said Dave Bard, director of the Marine Mammal Care Center in San Pedro, a community near the region's massive ports and harbor.
It’s common for some pups to fall ill in the winter, but the number of animals being brought in dwarfs the usual count by at this time of year, Bard said.
The number of animals admitted so far in 2013 is expected to hit or exceed 100 by the end of this week, Bard said. By comparison, the usual number of admissions at this point in February is “in the teens,” he said.
It’s not clear why the animals are becoming sick, Bard said, and so far there is no clear pattern.
“I don’t know what’s causing the increased number now,” Bard said. “We really don’t know.”
The young sea lions that do get sick this time of year suffer from a variety of ailments, Bard said, including natural illnesses and injuries, wounds from fishing gear in the water, or interaction with debris in the ocean.
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The answer, he said, could be as simple as an increase in the overall population of pups.
But he stressed that at this point, any theories as to what is going on would be purely speculative.
The center is doing blood tests on all of the animals when they come in, but so far the data does not show any trends, Bard said.
“They’re here because they’re not getting the nutrition that they need, of they’ve succumbed to some illness,” Bard said.