Skip to main content

KPBS Radio is undergoing scheduled upgrade work which may result in temporary signal outages.

LATEST UPDATES: Tracking COVID-19 | Vaccines | Tokyo Olympics

Once Near Extinction, California Condors Face New Threat: Sea Lions

Photo caption:

Photo by Associated Press

A California Condor is perched atop a pine tree in the Los Padres National Forest east of Big Sur, Thursday, July 10, 2008.

Once Near Extinction, California Condors Face New Threat: Sea Lions


Carolyn Kurle, assistant professor, UC San Diego


California condors became nearly extinct in the 1980s, when the their population dwindled down to just 22. The culprit: lead poisoning from animal carcasses shot with lead bullets.

Recovery efforts and hunter education campaigns have bolstered the California condor population to more than 400 this year, but according to a new study in the journal "Environmental Science & Technology," condors face a new threat. This time, from eating dead sea lions.

Scientists had initially hoped condors living on the Northern California coast would be safer than condors inland in Southern California because sea lions were unlikely to be shot by hunters. But UC San Diego biology professor Carolyn Kurle, one of the lead authors of the study, found the Northern California birds had high levels of mercury and pesticides.

Most California sea lions breed at the Channel Islands in Southern California, which were contaminated with the insecticide DDT from the 1940s through 1970s by Montrose Chemical Corp. and others, according to Kurle. Condors that eat the contaminated sea lions lay thin-shelled eggs with a low chance of hatching successfully.

Kurle said research shows condors may suffer from eating both marine and land mammals.

"They’re both terrible," Kurle told KPBS Midday Edition on Monday. "There’s no safe wild food for these birds."

So is this the kind of threat that make it impossible for California condors to live in the wild?

"Oh gosh, I hope not. ... I just think that these data that we've figured out are just more information for the managers and conservationists who are working with these birds," Kurle said.


San Diego News Now podcast branding

San Diego news; when you want it, where you want it. Get local stories on politics, education, health, environment, the border and more. New episodes are ready weekday mornings. Hosted by Anica Colbert and produced by KPBS, San Diego and the Imperial County's NPR and PBS station.

  • Need help keeping up with the news that matters most? Get the day's top news — ranging from local to international — straight to your inbox each weekday morning.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Midday Edition banner

KPBS Midday Edition is a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.

Want more KPBS news?
Find us on Twitter and Facebook, or sign up for our newsletters.

To view PDF documents, Download Acrobat Reader.