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Record number of starving sea lions stranded on West Coast as "mortality event" drags on

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(NaturalNews) On the southern beaches of California, sea lions can be seen struggling, starving for food. A record number of sea lion pups have been stranded this winter, weakened and left behind. The mother sea lions are now leaving their young for prolonged periods as they struggle to find food on the West Coast. Some of the adult sea lions don't even have enough energy to complete their long quests for food. Some scientists believe the cause of this mortality event is linked to this winter's mild El Nino effect. The El Nino effect is responsible for altering ocean currents and the temperatures of the water. A change in the El Nino effect can change the migratory patterns of natural prey that the sea lions depend on. The West Coast is witnessing the effects of of a rapidly changing environment and shifting ecosystems.

"Unusual mortality event" declared in 2013, with five times the normal number of pups needing rescuing

Keith Matassa, executive director of the nonprofit Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach, reports that they are rescuing 20 percent more sea lion pups in 2014 than in 2013. This is shocking, considering that the National Marine Fisheries Services declared 2013 to be an "unusual mortality event" for the pups. Matassa said that in 2013 the Marine Mammal Center gave assistance to five times the normal number of pups. It's now 2015, and this "unusual mortality event" has only gotten worse, dragging on as the animals lose strength on the West Coast.

According to Matassa, the pups aren't the only ones struggling. He said that some of the adults are giving up, losing strength, turning up emaciated like never before. The winter of 2014 has been the worst season ever documented for marine mammal survival. Could a shift in ocean temperatures and the depletion of natural prey be behind the mass die-off of these creatures? Others have suggested that radioactive waste pouring into the ocean at Fukushima could play a role in the increased deaths in sea animals.

Sea World rescuing twice as many sea lions in 2014

San Diego's Sea World has also seen an influx of sea lion rescue and rehabilitation. Officials at the Marine Mammal Care Center in San Pedro are taking in the starving animals and nursing them back to health.

"Our numbers are twice what they were in 2013," said David Bard, operations director of the San Pedro center. "In 2013, we saw an unprecedented number of rescues, it was a record then."

Bard said his facility took in more than 70 sea lion pups in December. Sea World's rescue team coordinator Jody Westberg said their rescue operation took in 15 starved pups in one three-day period. Throughout January, Sea World took in 62 sea lions, both pups and adults. The Laguna Beach center has saved 29.

Sea lions needing 6-8 weeks of care before returning to the wild

The rescue teams capture the stranded animals in the wild and take them in for six to eight weeks. It is taking two months now to get the pinnipeds strong enough so they can return to the wild.

If they can't eat, they lose the strength to move and hunt for food. Sea World veterinarian Dr. Hendrik Rollens mentioned how emaciated the animals are when they are first taken in and cared for. "When they came in, they couldn't raise their heads," he said, "so to see them start grooming and barking, that means they're feeling much better, much more themselves." At that point, he said, "[t]hey are ready to go back to the wild."

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