The number of sea lions washing up on the southern coast of California is staggering. More than five times the normal amount are being admitted to the Marine Mammal Center near San Francisco, while the Southern California Coast as a whole is looking to shatter the record number of sea lions taken in last year (1600) by doubling the average number given shelter by the month of May. If these shelters were not around feeding these poor animals, the coast of California would be littered with starving sea lions.
The shelters are understaffed and underpaid when considering their onslaught of new patrons. Unfortunately, despite being rescued, up to half of the sea lions still die. This is due in part to the poor condition in which they enter, but also because most of the enclosures are overcrowded causing the amount of fish needed to cost upwards of a $1000 a day (about a dollar a pound). Cost aside, the center also needs more workers because the influx only recently started. Last year’s record numbers were thought to be an anomaly, but it is becoming evident that it might be an increasing trend.
The problem researchers are starting to consider is the fact that these animals’ food supply is dwindling, so families cannot find enough food to share. This means that sea lions like Sarabi have to leave their brethren to fend for themselves, but because Simba is so young he cannot fend for himself yet; not nimble enough to catch a fish nor smart enough to know how to eat one if he did. Before long Simba and his pals washed up on a beach in California and were so close to starving their spines were showing. When they arrived at the Marine Mammal Center, these sea lions needed to be fed and taught how to defend themselves. After eating a diet of fish slurry from a tube, the sea lions are put into a self-defense class. The whole process from enclosure to class can be watched by dozens of daily visitors who are curious to see the animals.
Though not all of the west coast has the same patience for the critters, the port of Astoria is finding new ways to keep the beasts at bay, and away from their port. The port owners claim the vermin are causing about $100,000 in damages. As a temporary fix, the owners put up orange tape in efforts to keep the sea lions from boarding their docks, while they try to retrofit the docks with a sea lion resistant design, which is much better than the lethal alternative many would prefer in the interest of immediacy. Others in the city argue that the sea lions are a great tourist attraction and that the business generated could possibly compensate; however, the true compensation lies elsewhere.
By studying the animals more closely especially where the population is having problems, people can gain a better understanding of the root of the problem. Some scientists suspect that the problem may lie squarely in the hands of climate change altering the ocean’s currents or temperatures. Others speculate that toxicity in the water is to blame, as was a problem in the late 90s when countless sea lions were having seizures off the coast of California, which lead to the discovery of domoic acid being the source of an outbreak of amnesic shellfish poisoning among humans around the same time. Because of the research conducted at the Marine Mammal Center, a solution for the sea lion seizure was found while also curing a human ailment. Therefore, California may want to continue feeding sea lions to keep them from starving and also continue researching for potential advancements in human health.
By Eddie Mejia