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Environment and Energy

Sea lion population facing historic starvation problem along Central Coast

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Marine Mammal Center
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There is a major spike in the number of starving sea lion pups showing up on Central Coast beaches. While the influx is overwhelming facilities like the Marine Mammal Center in Morro Bay, all rescued animals are still being accepted according to spokesperson Laura Sherr.

The organization says it has rescued more than 500 animals so far this year, more than ever before in its 40 year history.

Many of the starving sea lions are coming from the Channel Islands where pups are born and raised. The problem is also affecting the elephant seal population at the rookery near San Simeon.

Dr. Shawn Johnson is the director of the Center's veterinary science department. He says the emaciated animals are an indication of a much larger problem.

"There's a lot of things that aren't right," said Johnson. "These sea lions are definitely telling us that there's something critically wrong with our environment right now—the ocean temperatures are high, the weather is weird, we're in a huge drought—I think all these things are linked together with the climate change that's happening around us."

Dr. Johnson says warmer than normal ocean waters are responsible for a lack of upwelling along our coast. Without that system in place, nutrients are cut off for fish populations that serve as the food sources for the larger mammals, like the sea lions.

To make matters worse, a weak El Niño formed earlier this month in the South Pacific, and Johnson says that could further enhance the current situation of halted upwelling.

In addition, Johnson says climate scientists are unsure of when this cycle could end.