An increasing number of California sea lion pups have been stranding along the coast of in Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties.
The number of pups needing emergency care is so great that one rescue organization has declared a state of emergency.
“We don't know what the problem is now,” said Susan Chivers, a biologist with the National Marine Fisheries Service.
“What we're seeing is a lot of skinny pups which suggests they’re not getting sufficient nourishment, and dying of starvation basically."
NBC 7 San Diego first reported on the unusual number of sea lion pups wandering ashore along San Diego’s coastline Monday.
SeaWorld San Diego staffers rescued 11 sea lion pups in just 3 days from locations like Mission Beach and .
The phenomenon has been happening for two weeks along beaches in Los Angeles and Orange counties.
On Monday, the Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach declared its own state of emergency after it performed 12 rescues Saturday – a single-day record for the organization.
The center released images of its center showing a large number of sea lions clustered in one room.
Chivers said marine mammal experts are beginning to discuss the problem and gather data to try and better understand why the pups are dying.
The number of rescues is concerning because not only are more occurring at an earlier time than usually reported but also because experts aren’t sure what’s happening.
“There’s something going on oceanographically that there’s not sufficient food available for the moms to nurse their pups or the pups, as they’re starting to eat on their own, to find,” said Chivers.
The typical sea lion pup is round and robust. As she looked at a photo of a California sea lion pup taken recently along the coast, Chivers described evidence showing dehydration and malnourishment.
"Basically, you can see its backbone. You can see its shoulder blades," she said.
The next step for all these groups is to work together to find out why.
Part of that process will be to perform necropsies on the dead sea lion pups that have been found. Scientists are hoping that finding the exact cause of death may help them find out what is happening.
The Pacific Marine Mammal Center is concerned about the funding needed to house and rehabilitate the large number of sea lions. The pups may need to stay at the center for two to four months before returning to the wild.
Northern California is not seeing the same numbers of stranded sea lion pups according to the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito.
The center is just getting going with its local pupping season for elephant seals and harbor seals according to spokesperson Jim Oswald.
They expect in a month they’re going to see a lot more sea lions as that pupping season kicks into high gear NBC Bay Area’s Joe Rosato Jr. reports.
SeaWorld San Diego suggests anyone who spots a marine mammal that might be in need of help notify a lifeguard, park ranger or the local marine mammal rescue facility.
The hotline for the SeaWorld Animal Rescue and Rehabilitation Program is 800-541-SEAL.