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Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Latest Pinniped Victims of Climate Change Are These Unbearably Cute Northern Fur Seals

Posted By on Tue, Nov 24, 2015 at 1:49 PM

click to enlarge COURTESY MARINE MAMMAL CENTER
  • Courtesy Marine Mammal Center
The Marine Mammal Center in Sausolito has had quite a year. After spending the first 10 months of the year rescuing record-breaking numbers of seals and sea lions — more than ever before in its 40-year history — the center is now facing an influx of malnourished northern fur seal pups. 


click to enlarge COURTESY MARINE MAMMAL CENTER
  • Courtesy Marine Mammal Center

“Northern fur seals are just the latest victims of the warm waters off of our coast,” said Dr. Shawn Johnson, director of veterinary science at the MMC, in a statement. “And as these conditions persist, we’re increasingly concerned about what this could mean for the next generation of sea lion pups too.”

click to enlarge COURTESY MARINE MAMMAL CENTER
  • Courtesy Marine Mammal Center

At fault is the so-called "blob" — a 500-mile wide blob of warm water that's been hanging out off the Pacific coast since Fall 2013. Scientists have linked the blob to climate change, and believe that the warm water is impacting the distribution of fish, causing trouble up the food chain for marine mammals. The MMC expects the coming El Niño to exacerbate the problem. 

COURTESY MARINE MAMMAL CENTER
  • Courtesy Marine Mammal Center

The warm water conditions led to a record 1,344 sea lion pup rescues by the MMC last winter, and is now causing malnutrition in the population of northern fur seal pups that were born in June on the Channel Islands. According to the MMC, northern fur seal pups spend the first four months of their lives nursing on the islands before striking off to hunt and fish on their own, primarily in the open ocean. The MMC says that the more than 80 seals they've rescued in the past few weeks have been "emaciated" and just half the size they should be. 

click to enlarge COURTESY MARINE MAMMAL CENTER
  • Courtesy Marine Mammal Center
The only good news is that the MMC is continuing its rescue work. Zachary, the pinniped pictured above, was the first starving pup rescued by the MMC this year, at Pajaro Dunes Beach, between Santa Cruz and Monterey. Zachary has nearly doubled her weight (yes, it's a girl) on a diet of fish smoothies and, eventually, whole fish, and the MMC hopes she will soon be able to return to the wild. 

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About The Author

Julia Carrie Wong

Bio:
Julia Carrie Wong's work has appeared in numerous local and national titles including 48hills, Salon, In These Times, The Nation, and The New Yorker.

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