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What’s Behind Sea Lion Pups Stranded On California Beaches?

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Since the beginning of the year, more than 2,000 sea lion pups have washed up on California's shoreline.

Stephanie Venn-Watson, director of the National Marine Mammal Foundation's Translational Medicine and Research Program, said this number has been on the rise since 2013. In the first six months of 2013, at least 600 sea lion pups came ashore.

Venn-Watson said many of the same indicators they saw in 2013 are present today.

"High nutrient fish are missing and there's been a weak La Niña system, water temperatures rising, tiny fish are going to deeper colder waters," she said. "Pups are stranding all over San Diego beaches. They are emaciated, thin, weak. We're not used to seeing them this size."

Teams including the National Marine Mammal Foundation, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and SeaWorld San Diego, among others, have been rescuing sea lion pups on area beaches and taking them to rehabilitation centers.

The urgency prompted SeaWorld San Diego to briefly halt its seal lion and otter show, while their employees helped in the rescue effort.

Venn-Watson cautioned beachgoers not to try to "scoop up the pups yourself” because they may have bacteria that shouldn’t be exposed to people. They are also very weak.

“They are much smaller than we’d expect. These ones are 7 to 9 months old — you can see their bones,” Venn-Watson told KPBS Midday Edition on Thursday. “They may not be moving or really responding much to people.”

Anyone who comes across a stranded or ill sea lion is asked to contact a lifeguard or call SeaWorld's Rescue Hotline at (800) 541-7325. People also should not touch or feed the sea lions.

The Waitt Foundation has issued a grant challenge to help pay for the rescue work. Every dollar contributed by the public will be matched by the foundation.

NMMF Sea Lion Rehabilitation

A look inside the rehabilitation of sea lion pups found stranded along the southern California coast by the National Marine Mammal Foundation. Located at the Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach, California, March 2015.

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