H-CENTRAL COAST

Apr 11, 2013 8:47 PM by Connie Tran, KSBY News

California sea lion pups found washed ashore malnourished and dehydrated

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, hundreds of California sea lions have been washing ashore, malnourished and dehydrated. Among them, they said, are sea lion pups. Most of them have been found in Los Angeles County, but the Marine Mammal Center San Luis Obispo Operations said some are found along the Central Coast as well.

Lisa Harper Henderson, the Site Manager for the SLO Operations Facility, said there is no clear answer yet as to why this incident is occuring, but said scientists are investigating the cause. Henderson said an unusual mortality event (UME) has been declared, which is defined under the Marine Mammal Protection Act as: "a stranding that is unexpected; involves a significant die-off of any marine mammal population; and demands immediate response."

"I've been in love with them my whole life," said Marrissa Schuman, an intern at the facility. She spends her days helping, feeding, and bringing the sea lion pups back to life.

Schuman, who is a recent marine biology major graduate from Cal Poly, told KSBY News on Thursday, "Being part of the healing process of the rehab is just great."

Henderson said there are currently 11 pups at the facility. Ten of them were found on Santa Barbara area beaches, and one was from the San Luis Obispo County coastal area. She said the pups were found very malnourished and separated from their mothers.

"The females most likely, there was not enough for them to eat. And so, they were getting thin, and they could not eat enough. They could not continue to nurse their pups, and so the pups were separated from them prematurely," said Henderson.

Henderson said scientists are studying why the pups are washing up emaciated and dehydrated. She said, it is likely that there is a lack of bate fish in the ocean for the pups and their mothers to eat. Henderson suspects a multitude of reasons, including pollution in the ocean, warmer water temperatures, or the human fingerprint on the ocean.

It is unknown when the pups will be able to return to the ocean, as each sea lion's case varies, but the hope is for soon.

"What you're doing for them, is the best that you can be doing," said Schuman, in regards to her work with pups. She is in charge of feeding times for the young pups. Some pups can eat fish on their own, and others have to be fed by a tube.

Henderson said the Marine Mammal Center's main hospital up in Sausalito currently has 165 patients, double the number it would normally have for this time of year. Henderson said it is concerning. She said the community can help by donating or volunteering.

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