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Conditions changing for starving sea lion pups along the Central Coast

Shedd Aquarium

Wildlife rescue organizations are helping starving sea lion pups on the Central Coast as natural conditions continue to reduce food supply. 

As of Sunday, more than 143 sea lions, mostly pups, were rescued along the California coast this year.

The pups are experiencing difficulty adapting to warmer than average water temperatures and erratic El Niño conditions.

Nicole Minadeo is with the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago and said the reason so many of the pups are stranded is that food sources are currently hard to find.

"Mothers are having to go further out to find food for the pups," she said. "So, that's causing a lot of these sea lion pups to be starving; they're stranding."

Organizations like the Shedd, Santa Barbara-based Channel Island Marine & Wildlife Institute (CIMWI), and the Marine Mammal Center are working to rescue these young mammals.

The Shedd said 40 have been rescued in just the past two weeks.

While these numbers may seem high, they are better than last year's record strandings.

According to NOAA, last year 1,200 emaciated and dying sea lion pups washed up statewide in the first two months alone.

This was a huge spike compared to the 68 found in the same time period the year before.

Doctor Cara Field with the Marine Mammal Center said the Central Coast sees most of the strandings because of nearby breading grounds.

Field said she's not sure whether this year's lower numbers are signaling the start of an overall trend.

"It's impossible to predict what's going to happen in the next few months as more of these animals approach weaning age," she said. "So, it's very possible that we'll continue to see larger numbers strand in the future."

Doctor Field said water temperature and prey availability will play a big role in how this cycle plays out.

Minadeo said in the meantime the public can help with this problem.

"I think the biggest thing is really just being educated about the issues that are out there and knowing what to do when they do see an animal in need of rescue," she said.

Minadeo said those who live by the coast and see stranded sea lion pups should contact organizations like CIMWI.

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