Sickened animals “unlike anything doctors have ever seen” on West Coast — “They’re eating themselves from the inside” — Cancers… liver, pancreas, intestines shut down… infested with parasites and immune to antibiotics — Unprecedented catastrophe to cause loss of 200,000 sea lions (VIDEO)
Published: January 7th, 2016 at 11:19 am ET
(Garnet the California sea lion, deceased, arrives at the Marine Mammal Center. Azure Gilman / Al Jazeera America)
Al Jazeera, Jan 6, 2016 (emphasis added): In warming ocean, record number of seals and sea lions sicken and starve — Ailing or dead seals and sea lions washed up on California beaches in record numbers in 2015; this year could be worse… They are brought in with all sorts of problems: lockjaw, poisoning, cancer… But most of the record number of seals and sea lions washing up on California’s shores and being brought to a regional rescue center are starving… this slow-motion catastrophe is likely to continue… In 2015, [NOAA] counted more than 4,200 California sea lions, 90 Guadalupe fur seals, and 70 northern fur seals. The [Marine Mammal Center’s] staff began to realize something was different early in the year… the pups brought in for rescue were unlike anything the veterinarians had ever seen… It was the worst year in the center’s 40-year history, staff said… Only half the usual number of sea lion pups were born off the California coast in 2015, [Dr. Shawn Johnson, director of veterinary science at the Marine Mammal Center] said… veterinarians at the Marine Mammal Center are bracing for the worst.
(Volunteers using wooden sheilds to corrall an evasive animalAzure Gilman / Al Jazeera America)
Dr. Shawn Johnson, director of veterinary science at the Marine Mammal Center: “They were basically just skin and bones. Their liver, their pancreas, their intestines were basically shut down. And they were eating themselves from the inside to stay alive by the time we saw them… If it continues, if this is the new normal, the sea lion population and the fur seal population in California are going to have severe drops in their overall population.”
Laguna Beach Independent, Dec 18, 2015: With the lowest body weights ever documented, California sea lion pups are not only starving from lack of food, they’re infested with parasites and immune to antibiotics, said [Keith Matassa] the director of the Pacific Marine Mammal Center… A record number of emaciated and dying sea lion and seal pups is expected along local shores this winter… Last year, 3,500 sea lions and seals were rescued by various California marine rehab facilities. This year, the stranded pinnipeds are expected to hit 4,000… The animals are riddled with intestine-perforating parasites, known as thorny-head hookworms. “We’re seeing such a high level of parasites now, it’s not normal,” said Matassa… Antibiotics for infections are proving ineffective… Conditions have “not gotten much better over the past couple of years,” [Sharon Melin, NOAA wildlife biologist] said… The food web, said Melin, “has been out of whack now for quite some time.”… The fact that northern pup seals are following suit signifies the domino effect of a distressed environment, she said… the California sea lion population tops out at 300,000… she predicts a drastic decline to 100,000 due to low food availability… “There’s so many stressors on the ocean right now,” Matassa said.
( An emaciated sea lion pup. Pups have had trouble finding their usual prey of sardines and anchovies, which are moving to cooler areas because of ocean warming caused by El Niño. Photograph: Noaa Fisheries West Coast)
Guardian, Dec 30, 2015: Unprecedented numbers of dead or starving seals washing ashore as Pacific Ocean warms, with experts saying they are ‘preparing for the worst’ in 2016… According to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries, there has been a huge increase in stranded sea lions… According to NOAA, more than 4,200 sick sea lions have been washed up in California so far this year, comfortably the greatest number of strandings over the past decade.
( A sea lion pup under normal weight in a picture taken in January 2015. Photograph: Noaa Fisheries West Coast)
Dr Terry Gosliner, senior curator of invertebrate zoology at the California Academy of Sciences: “We are entering a really interesting period where the observations we make don’t have a precedent… It could take decades for these ecosystems to stabilize again.”