Federal officials say the number of sea lion pups being stranded on the West Coast is steadily increasing, to the point where they might not be able to keep up.
The Marine Mammal Center, one of the largest non-profit rehabilitation facilities on the West Coast, doesn’t have enough room to fit all of the animals coming in. In a normal year, the site can see up to 20 malnourished California sea lion pups.
During the first 10 days of February, The Marine Mammal Center saw over 100 cases of malnourished sea lion pups stranded on the West Coast.
California has found a total of almost 1,000 abandoned California sea lion pups this year alone, the Los Angeles Times reported. They have seen more stranded sea lion pups in the first two months of 2015 than in the entire year of 2013.
The reason for this increase of malnourished pups, scientists believe, is an increase in water temperature. Sea lion mothers leave their pups for a few days, at most, to gather fish for their young. However, the temperature increase has affected fish migration patterns. Fish wander farther in search of cooler temperature water, and the sea lion mothers must wade farther from their pups to search for food.
“Now the moms are gone for four to six days, and they’re coming back with less,” said Keith Matassa, the executive director of the Laguna Beach Pacific Marine Mammal Center, told the San Diego Reader. “The pups are already underweight when they go looking for mom and food.”
Like people, starving animals can’t just shovel down massive amounts of food once rescued. Their bodies have to slowly get used to being nourished again. When the pups are rescued, they are riddled with parasites, diarrhea and liver damage. Some pups are even found with rocks in their stomachs when they are rescued, a technique sea lions use to recreate the feeling of a full belly.
The rehabilitation process for these animals is slow. The pups come in around seven to eight months old, but weigh approximately the same as they did when they were born. Additionally, transitioning from a liquid to a solid diet takes time and takes up space that most rehabilitation centers don’t have. And more pups are coming in every day.
But conservationists, rehabilitation centers and veterinarians are working around the clock to make sure that at least a fraction of the pups washed ashore have a fighting chance at being released back into the wild once they recover and learn how to fend for themselves.
Please, if you have time, donate to the non-profit centers to make sure they can keep doing good for the creatures of this world.