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Domoic acid toxicosis making sea lions sick on Central Coast

Posted at 11:46 AM, Jun 17, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-19 11:08:24-04

Marine wildlife groups were busy this weekend as more and more sick sea lions are washing up onto area beaches.

Marine biologists say there are multiple factors for why this is happening, but the one that is making adult sea lions sick is most likely linked to domoic acid toxicosis, which essentially can poison a marine mammal.

The toxin targets the mammal’s central nervous system and brain, making them disoriented and can even cause seizures.

Two adult sea lions, Thora and Francesca, who were rescued in Oceano on Saturday suffered seizures on Sunday.

The Marina Mammal Center is receiving calls of 10 or more per day. The center depends on its volunteers to make the rescues possible.

“What our trained teams do is go to the beach and make an assessment and see if that animal truly does need help and if it does, then we would rescue it and bring it back to our triage hospital at the Marine Mammal Center in San Luis Obispo County,” said Diana Kramer, Marine Mammal Center operations manager.

The sick animals are stabilized at the Morro Bay facility.

“One of our patients we have on site right now is 99 kilograms, a very large lady, so she will get two full bags of fluids,” Kramer said.

Stabilization of the animals can take one to three days. The domoic acid neurotoxin that is making them sick comes from algae.

“It is an algae that is natural. Another factor could be increased water temperatures. A third factor could be fertilizer runoff,” according to Kramer. “What happens is when the algae produces this toxin, fish eat that algae and then the sea lions eat the fish and then experience those symptoms.”

Symptoms include confusion, disorientation and seizures.

“The first thing that we do is get them on anti-seizure medications. It is very similar to treatments for humans and then we give them high quantities of fluids,” Kramer said.

Once the animal is stable, they are moved to the Marine Mammal Center’s main location in Sausalito where they complete their rehabilitation and are hopefully released back into the ocean.

The Marine Mammal Center says more than half of all California sea lions are born in June, so this is another reason there is an influx of sea lions on Central Coast beaches.

Some of the pups are malnourished, so they come to shore to rest.

If you see a marine mammal in distress in San Luis Obispo County, call the Marine Mammal Center’s hotline at (415) 289-SEAL. In Santa Barbara County, call the Channel Islands Marine and Wildlife Institution rescue hotline at (805) 567-1505.