It’s shaping up to be another terrible year for California sea lions. The Chronicle
reports that NOAA scientists recently finished weighing the pups in our coastal waters and discovered that once again they’re quite unhealthy.
(Yes, if you have a degree in marine biology you get to go around putting young sea lions onto a little scale, which has to be pretty adorable no matter how grave the research you’re doing.)
Our regional pinnipeds are having trouble keeping themselves fed, possibly thanks to climate change, which drives fish populations farther north as temperatures rise. Young sea lions expend more energy chasing fewer fish and end up malnourished and sick.
When they’re too unhealthy to swim anymore they flop onto shore, a phenomena called “stranding.” Despite the name, stranded pups are not kids who have been abandoned by their parents. Rather, they’re usually at the age when they have to start fending for themselves but find they can’t keep up with the rest of the colony.
The number of distressed sea lions (that’s the technical term: “distressed marine mammal”; the institutions that care for distressed marine mammals are known as the “stranding network”) on our beaches has exploded in recent years.
In the spring of 2005, NOAA Fisheries recorded 280 stranded sea lions. This year, they had 3,340, almost three times the previous worst year (1,262 in 2013). Next spring isn‘t looking great either.