Heralding the demise of something else beneath the waves?

LA Times, Feb 12, 2015 (emphasis added): [A] record number of sea lions [have] been rescued in recent weeks. “One hundred and two California sea lions in the last 10 days,” a spokeswoman for the [Marine Mammal Center] said… The influx is unprecedented

National Geographic, Feb 12, 2015: Since January 1, nearly 500 of the tiny animals have been [rescued] a number many times higher than normal. Why these animals are struggling to survive is a mystery… California sea lions are considered a sentinel species, meaning they’re seen as indicators of ocean health. Generally, if sea lions are suffering, something is wrong offshore. In this case, scientists still don’t really know what that something is… Starting in January 2013, waves of starving sea lion pups began washing ashore… Scientists noted that the stranding pattern resembled that of severe El Niño years [with] warm ocean waters… The trouble was, these weren’t El Niño years… January 2014, strandings started to swell again… Now, 2015 is looking even worse… more than 470 sea lions have been admitted to California rehab centers… For now, it’s too soon to say… if the sea lion pups are heralding the demise of something else beneath the waves.

San Jose Mercury News, Feb 12, 2015: Sea lions desperate for nourishment dying off in alarming numbers on California coast… in what’s alarmingly become a third year of massive sea lion pup dieoffs. And if the trend continues, marine biologists warn, it could deplete an entire generation

Daily Breeze, Jan 19, 2015: Scientists are still investigating possible causes for the… “unusual mortality event” in 2013… it was believed as many as two-thirds of the sea lion pup population off the coast was wiped out.*

Santa Cruz Sentinel, Feb 1, 2015: In 2013 only 30 percent [of sea lion pups] survived.*

OC Register, Jan 27, 2015: [In 2012] there was no sign of a problem. A year later, nearly 70 percent of the newborns had died*… [In 2013, Sharon Melin, a NOAA wildlife biologist] recorded pups at only half their previous weights [and] last September, the weights were down again… [Melin had] another research trip out last month. But the skinny pups had only gained 4 pounds… “We’ve told the centers to prepare for the worst,” she said.

San Diego Union Tribune, Jan 27, 2015: Scientists [are in] fear… based not only on what they have encountered in recent weeks but also the early warning signs… Pups in the Channel Island rookeries were about 19 percent below average weight in September… Nearly one out of three pups born last summer have died.**

San Diego Ch. 6, Jan 28, 2015: Nearly 1 of 3 pups born last summer have already died**

Jim Milbury, NOAA Fisheries: The sea lions ahve a birth rate of about 50,000 a year

* 70% of 2012-13 newborns died — 35,000 dead, based on an average of 50,000 births a year.
** 33% of 2014-15 newborns have already died — 16,667 dead, based on average birth rate.

Watch the Channel 6 broadcast here

  1. FOX San Diego: Sardines, crayfish “disappeared from Pacific Ocean… they’ve just vanished” — Marine mammals starving, struggling to survive on West Coast — Strandings in past 5 weeks already exceed what’s normally seen for an entire year — “Much larger” than anything on record (VIDEOS) February 10, 2015
  2. CBS: Officials alarmed as several types of marine mammals begin washing up in California — “Now entire coast is being affected” — “Whole population getting hit hard… a real shock to us” — Animals of all ages sick, not only newborns — “Really hard to wrap our heads around what’s happening” (VIDEO) February 2, 2015
  3. Marine mammal strandings shatter records on West Coast — 10 times worse than they’ve ever seen before — Expert: “3 years of babies have crashed & burned… doesn’t make sense that they’re fine, then all of a sudden 3 years in a row, they’re not” (VIDEO)February 5, 2015
  4. NBC: Record level of sick or injured California seals and sea lions turning up — “The numbers are extraordinary” — “Scientists worried… The worst kind of perfect storm” — Pups should be weighing 2 or 3 times as much, “severely malnourished” (VIDEO) April 18, 2014
  5. TV: “Animals basically dying on our beaches” along West Coast — “New, worse calamity seems to be unfolding” — Experts: “Like walking skeletons”; “So hungry they gnaw on rocks”; “Skin hanging off”; “Extremely unusual… maybe the fish have all left”; “Prepare for the worst” (VIDEOS) February 1, 2015