Originally published April 8, 2013 at 3:54 p.m., updated April 9, 2013 at 2:07 p.m.
David Koontz, Director of Communications SeaWorld San Diego
Cynthia Smith, Executive Director, National Marine Mammal Foundation
It could be months before we know what's causing sea lion strandings along the Southern California coast and all the while, more and more pups are turning up. Over the weekend, SeaWorld reported rescuing another half-dozen sea lions.
Last week, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) declared the case an “Unusual Mortality Event," which frees up federal funding for rescue and rehabilitation efforts. The designation also opens up an investigation into what's causing the epidemic.
So far, 1,100 sick sea lions have been found stranded from San Diego to Santa Barbara since Jan. 1, 2013. Last year, there were 132 standings over the same period of time.
Sea Lion Stranding Rates
The sea lions, mostly pups, are malnourished and underweight. Experts believe the strandings are largely due to a lack of food source. Sea lions feed off smaller fish like anchovies and sardines.
But the big question is what's contributing to the lack of food source.
"It's all speculation at this point, but maybe it's due to an ocean phenomenon that doesn't necessarily have a name or criteria designation at this point," said Sarah Wilken, a marine biologist with the National Marine Fisheries Service.
One theory for why more pups than adults are turning up is because scientists say mothers are likely leaving their pups behind in search of food. Pups should still be with their mothers during this time of year.
The last time sea lions were turning up sick was during El Nino years. But scientist have ruled that out since California is not experiencing an El Nino event.
Others have questioned whether radiation from Fukushima could have led to the lack of fish. The National Marine Fisheries Service isn't ruling that out, although officials say radiation is highly unlikely since it would have probably affected other marine life as well.
Meanwhile, the public is being asked to pitch in for sea lion care. You can find more information here.
To notify SeaWorld about a possible stranded animal call (800) 541-SEAL (7325)