Orange County School of the Arts

A crisis for California’s sea lions

You’ve probably noticed the strange weather this year. The much-needed rain, the strange warms—these are the results of both El Niño and climate change.

However, this confluence of factors has led to changes in the ocean, which has effected for seals and sea lions.

el nino la times
Image from the LA Times

El Niño is when the equatorial zone of the Pacific Ocean warms up. This changes the way water currents around the world move, which affects us in Southern California because the ocean becomes much warmer. El Niño occurs every two to seven years, and lasts nine months to 2 years.

With these warmer waters, sea lions are in a bad place. Scientists hypothesize that sea lions must dive deeper to get the fish that they normally eat. This means that many young seal lions, not used to fishing on their own, wash up on Southern California beaches, malnourished and dehydrated.

Pacific-Marine-Mammal-Center-
Sickly (but cute) California Sea Lions. Image from the Pacific Marine Mammal Center.

These animals are helpless. Luckily, there are kind humans willing to help. Many organizations dedicated to helping seals and sea lions recover—and then healthy enough to be released back into the ocean.

The Pacific Marine Mammal Center is one of these organizations. Their mission is the “4 Rs:” Rescue, Rehabilitation, Release, Research.” A team of highly trained volunteers rescues the stranded animal with safe and effective measures. Once the patient comes to the Pacific Marine Mammal Center, it is given necessary treatment by trained veterinarians and volunteers. This could include “fish smoothies” (a mixture of fish, pedialyte, and vitamins) or wound care. The volunteers help rehabilitate the animal to its full weight, and then the animal is released back into the ocean! But it doesn’t end there—research is a critical part of the Pacific Marine Mammal Center, too. Seals and sea lions are apex predators, so they reflect a great deal of information about the health of the environment. Research includes education, a way of making sure that the future generation knows and cares about the health of the ocean.

released animals courtesy of oc register
Releasing healthy animals. Image from the OC Register.

What can you do to help? These centers are rescuing many more seals than normal, so you can donate supplies. If you see a sickly marine mammal, call one of these organizations. Do not touch or throw water on the animal.

If the animal is in San Diego County, call Sea World Rescue at 800-541-SEAL.

If the animal is in Orange County, call the Pacific Marine Mammal Center at 949-494-3050.

If the animal is in L.A. County, call the Marine Animal Rescue at 800-399-4253.

If the animal is within the Malibu City limits, call the California Wildlife Center at 310-458-9453.

If the animal is in the Santa Barbara & Ventura counties, call the Channel Islands Marine & Wildlife Institute at 805-567-1505.

If the animal is in San Luis Obispo, Monterey, Santa Cruz, San Mateo, San Francisco, Marin, Sonoma, or Mendocino counties, call The Marine Mammal Center at 415-289-7350.

If the animal is in the Del Norte & Humboldt counties, call Northcoast Marine Mammal Center at 707-951-4722

 

Sources:

Pacificmmc.org

https://weather.com/news/climate/news/el-nino-noaa-january-2016-update

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/dec/30/el-nino-ocean-warming-seals-california-pacific

http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2016/1/6/in-warming-ocean-record-numbers-of-seals-and-sea-lions-are-sick-or-starving.html

 

(Full Disclosure: I have volunteered with the Pacific Marine Mammal Center since 2013)

 

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