A record number of sea lions and seals are being taken care of at a Bay Area marine mammal rescue care center, and volunteers are busy making fish smoothies to feed the stranded patients, most likely sickened by an algae bloom.
The Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito said as of Monday, volunteers have brought in 446 California sea lions, elephant seals, harbor seals and fur seals this year. That's up from 302 animals admitted over the same period last year and the previous record of 418 animals in 1998. Most of the mammals are in Sausalito, but the overflow were sent to San Luis Obispo and Monterey.
The animals, many of them emaciated and dehydrated pups, include a sea lion pup spotted in March hopping through an almond orchard a mile from the San Joaquin River in Central California. The sea lion, nicknamed "Hoppie," was taken to the Marine Mammal Center's Sausalito headquarters for treatment. Some of the other patients came in over the weekend, including a California sea lion named "Wipper" from Santa Cruz, a Pacific Harbor Seal named "Cotton Candy" from Goat Rock Beach in Sonoma County, and a Northern Elephant Seal named "Brulay" from Anchor Bay Beach in Mendocino County.
Experts say that domoic acid - which is produced by algae and toxins in shellfish, sardines and anchovies eaten by the sea lions - appears to blame for some of the sea lion sickness epidemic. This is also the height of pupping season, when the young often get separated from their mothers.
Marine mammal center workers are using 1,000 pounds of fish each day to feel the animals, and they burned out two "fish grinders" over the weekend used to make "fish smoothies."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.