NOAA Blames Warming Ocean for Sick Sea Lions

Those starving sea lion pups off California may be signs of a drastically warming Pacific Ocean, according to a finding in a newly released fisheries report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The report says dying sea lions off California and starving seabirds off Oregon and Washington may mark a large-scale shift in the Pacific Ocean. NOAA fisheries say the trend is toward much warmer and less productive waters.

According to the most recent numbers released Tuesday, more than 1,800 sick sea lion pups have turned up on California beaches in the first few months of 2015. NOAA scientists say the animals are suffering from dehydration and emaciation.

The warmer conditions mean less food for the sea mammals, which may be an indicator of a more, long-term climate shift.

Justin Viezbicke, NOAA stranding coordinator, does not expect reports of sick sea lions to peak until next month.

“In ’98, we had about 2,500 animals throughout the year,” said Viezbicke. “We’re definitely not there yet, but we’re on pace to pass that here pretty quickly.”

Of the more than 1,800 rescued pups, about 750 are still being cared for at facilities around the state.

Viezbicke told NBC 7 facilities need more space and more people to take care of the animals.

“In years like this, it’s going to be difficult for us to have a number of facilities and the space and the resources in our current situation to be able to handle large events like this over time,” he said.

A warming that began last year off Southern California and the Gulf of Alaska now has spread across most of the West Coast. The Pacific is marking record high temperatures this year and last. Scientists say the trend is hurting the simple marine organisms that make up the base of the Pacific food chain.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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